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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Feeding of 5,000
In my first year at high school, I remember, the head teacher lead a morning assembly and read today's gospel of the miracle of the loaves and fishes - and he said "the real miracle here was that Jesus gave an example of sharing with the bread and fish which persuaded all those present to share the food they had brought with them - and so every one got something to eat". Aged 11 I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong with this but my catholic sense was ringing alarm bells - something wasn't right. And in fact the head teacher's innocent seeming observation is the beginning of a denial of the very heart of our faith, the divinity of Christ, the means of salvation and the Eucharist.
You see the feeding of the 5000 is a sign, a pre-figuration of the Eucharist, about which as we will hear over the next few weeks, Jesus is going to teach at length. So what this sign says is important.
The headmaster said, in effect, that the people had what they needed with them - they had more than enough food - they needed Jesus to give them an example of sharing - but in the end they fed themselves. Translate this into the Mass, we bring all we need with us to Mass, Jesus doesn't give us anything except an example, at mass we share with each other, we celebrate our community, we have the ability and the gifts to do this ourselves. Holy Communion, the breaking of bread, is the sign, the reminder of Jesus' example of sharing, which we follow. And indeed because all Jesus does is give an example, no actual miracle of multiplying bread and fish, no actual miracle of changing bread and wine into his body and blood, then he doesn't need to be God, just a good and holy man who gives us the example we need.
In fact by the lakeside the people have no food. They are hungry. It is Jesus himself, who, out love gives them the food they need. And this giving of food that only he can do is the sign of the self giving on the cross, which only he can do because he is true God and true man and which for that reason is our salvation. And as he will teach the crowd it is at Mass, in the gift of his body and blood, that this self giving, which is our salvation, continues.
Already we have an explanation for the serious obligation to attend mass on Sunday. We don't come here for thrills and excitement, in the Latin Rite, our rite, the service is bare and simple, it has beauty but deliberately avoids entertainment. Nor do we come primarily for a personal communion with Jesus, that we might find easier in private prayer, in a prayer group or a charismatic retreat, nor is it primarily for a experience of community and friendship, you can get that elsewhere. These things may be at Mass but the principal reason we come, the reason we have to come, is because by this action, by being here, we take part in our Saviour's act of sacrificial obedience to the will of God which was consummated on Calvary and which has redeemed the whole world, and each of us. The Sunday obligation is born of the absolute necessity of each of us, if we are to be saved, to take our own part in the self-offering of Christ.
This we cannot do ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. Like the people at the lakeside we are hungry, unable to help ourselves, relying on Jesus and ready to receive and accept from him what we need, prepared to listen to him and recognising that the cost of what he gives us, what he teaches us, how he loves us, is the cross, and above all knowing that the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Sacrifice of the Mass is where he gives himself to us and unites us to Him.