“His heart was moved with pity for them”. That’s the nature of the Sacred Heart. That’s the nature of the Father’s heart, the nature of the Spirit’s heart. He sees our needs and He is moved with pity because of His great love for us; and He meets those needs. In this case He multiplied food for them for two reasons: first, because they were hungry; second, because these bread miracles in the Old Testament and the New Testament are meant to prepare people, prepare minds and hearts for the greatest bread miracle of them all - the Blessed Sacrament, to open their hearts, their minds, to the gift of the miraculous, present in Jesus, so that when the time comes when He gives them the greatest miracle of all, bread that becomes His very Body, they are prepared for it.
And even with the miracles, some had difficulty believing in what He said about the Eucharist. Many walked away when He began to teach them that He is the Living Bread come down from Heaven, or that, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life”; at that point it [Scripture] says, many of His disciples stopped following Him. But the miracle of the multiplication was meant to prepare their hearts. See what Jesus can do; now believe what He says! And even if you don’t understand how this is going to work, the Truth is not based on your understanding. It’s based on Who is giving you the Truth, Jesus Christ Himself, Who is absolutely trustworthy, Whose every word can be trusted regardless of whether or not we comprehend it or understand it or even have the vaguest idea how this is going to happen. And that’s the lesson given to us; continually trust Jesus. Trust that what He says is true. Trust when He says, “I am the living bread,” that that’s what He means.
There’s a difficulty in Scripture studies that began half a century ago that assumed as a basic perspective: there are no miracles, and therefore any time the New Testament talks about a miracle, you have to find some way to explain naturally how the New Testament’s event took place. The miracle that we heard this morning in terms of the multiplication of the loaves; the story that’s given is, when the crowd saw that the disciples were willing to share what little they had, they were struck by a perspective of great generosity. And they took out from themselves, food that they had brought along with them, and were hoarding. And decided to share it around so that everybody could eat. So the miracle is not that Jesus multiplied food, the miracle is that Jesus was able to prompt generosity in people’s hearts.
Well generosity is a good thing, but that’s not what happened. In the gospel of John it says after Jesus multiplied loaves, the crowd said to themselves ‘Look at this great sign, let us make Him our King.’ That’s not reflective of – ‘Oh, suddenly we were generous, let’s enthrone Him!’ The Church from the beginning has seen the multiplication miracles as literal historical events in which Jesus Christ Himself, by His sovereign power, multiplied bread for people’s needs. And the Church has always, in teaching that, also made the connection: this is a preparation for the great Eucharistic miracles.
But this attack on the supernatural, this attack on the miraculous continues. And it’s an attack that the church continues to fight because at its heart it’s an assault on the nature of God and especially His presence and how He chooses to intervene in our lives in a way that brings us His grace, His mercy, His power. Ultimately this perspective believes that God simply does not intervene. Well, if God does not intervene, then Sacraments don’t happen. And that is also what this group believes. The sad thing is that it’s become a very, very popular perspective. In probably half the Catholic churches today that preach on the Gospel, the congregations will hear it was about generosity. It was not a miracle.
But the Word says what the Word
says, and the Church’s understanding given to us is what we need to accept.
When we are invited to dismiss the supernatural and to adopt a position of
skepticism, we need to see that that is not the Holy Spirit. Anyone who tries
to tell us that Jesus was wrong, that the Scripture doesn’t mean what the
Scripture says as the Church proclaimed it, we should gently pray for, but not
believe. Because what we see is that the miracle, especially the great
Eucharistic miracle, God began preparing for with
And so some of the skeptics then try to explain the manna. ‘Well, it was the secretion of this particular bug’- the most disgusting interpretation that I’ve heard. ‘Well, it was a particular kind of flower that only blooms this particular way.” Well, Israel was a desert people, and in the desert, people eat whatever is available which is why locusts and wild honey was one of the things that were consumed. The idea that there was this phenomenally present food source that could feed a hundred thousand people in the desert that nobody had ever seen before is dubious at best. But that’s what the Israelites say. When they ask for food and the manna descends, they say, ‘What is this?,’ because no one had ever seen manna before. It was simply miraculous. And its miraculous nature is demonstrated by the fact that the manna observes the Sabbath.
They are told the day before the Sabbath to gather twice as much because you cannot gather it on the Sabbath. No grocery shopping on Saturday for the Jews…take the hint! So what happens, on the Sabbath day, the manna does not fall. But there was a double miracle involved because ordinarily the Jews were told, ‘When you collect the manna in the morning, eat it by the end of the day, and do not save it overnight. Because if you save it overnight it will rot. And the next morning it will be bad. And Moses records that, well some people tried it and they found when they saved it till the next morning it had become wormy. You couldn’t use it.
That happened every day of the week except for the manna that you gathered on Friday; it was perfectly fine Saturday morning; God not only feeding His people, but enforcing the gift and the wonder of His Holy Day. Elijah multiplied food. Elisha multiplied food. There are scores of these wonderful stories of multiplications that take place in the Scripture. If Elijah could do it and Elisha could do it, why would we not assume that Jesus of Nazareth Himself could do it?
The Gospels record this wonderful gift of the multiplication as a preparation for the Jewish people of the time and for us today to recognize what happens when the ultimate Eucharistic miracle takes place, and Jesus Christ Himself becomes miraculously present, when this bread becomes His Body, when this wine becomes His precious Blood. Jesus invites us to open our hearts more deeply to this miracle. But to recognize that our belief in this miracle, as our belief in all miracles, is sustained by our study, our prayerful believing study of God’s Word. The more we understand what He’s been doing since the beginning, the more we can open our hearts to what He is doing in our hearts right now in the present.
And so to study the stories, to read about the miracles, to see what He did and continues to do, opens our hearts more and more and more, so that every time we come to this altar, we come with an expectant faith that it is Jesus of Nazareth Himself that we are encountering. And that if we had the same faith as the woman who believed that, “If I could just touch the hem of His garment, I would be healed. What we do at this altar is infinitely greater than what she did. She touched His robe; we receive Him. We should spend time before every Mass pleading with Jesus to give us more Faith; that we would in fact believe in exactly what it is we profess. Because every time we receive Jesus we should leave changed, and in fact we do. But how changed we are in some ways depends on how changed we want to be – like, how many psychiatric social workers does it take to change a light bulb? – it depends on how badly the light bulb wants to be changed. Well, how much do we want Jesus to change us? How much do we want Him to fill our hearts with more of His love, more of His presence, more of His grace, that we might live in a way that is holy before Him; we might live in a way in which His Love and His Joy and His Peace permeate our hearts.
The Living Bread come down from Heaven is the most perfect source of grace available. We need to plead with Him that we would accept as true what He says is true, that our hearts would be more and more open to the life that He gives us when He gives us Himself. But as always, for Him to do all He wants to do in our hearts requires that we be completely surrendered to Him. He will not change hearts that are not His own. Which is why at the beginning of every Mass we plead for His mercy, as a way of saying, “You have not been the center. We need you to be the center; now be the center of our lives.” “ Where I have strayed, bring me back.” That as we approach the altar, Jesus Himself would be free to do all He longs to do in our hearts.
He was moved with pity for them; He is moved with pity for us today, because we have a Savior who loves to save, who does not begrudge His gifts, but desires more then we can imagine to lavish them on His people. He is about to give us the greatest gift of all, the gift of Himself. Let us plead with Him to open our hearts more deeply to the wonder of His presence in the Eucharist. Let us take time to adore Him, to spend time before Him adoring His Eucharistic presence that we would be even more deeply convinced of this great gift, that as we come forward to receive Him, our hearts would truly be open and filled with expectancy. “Jesus Christ Himself is coming to me in this most perfect way.” Let us choose to believe that. Let us prepare our hearts for it. The Savior who loves to save comes to us today.