A very special bread
In The Tempest, Prospero is worried lest too light winning Make the prize light 1. Jesus feeds the people with a food which is a very valuable prize and which is not lightly won. Jesus asks: Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat? He only said this to test Philip. He himself knew exactly what he was going to do. The Lord knows that all will be well. Nevertheless for Philip, and probably for us, the searching question from Jesus, puts us on our mettle. What are we to say to him? To Philip the question is about what is to be provided for the hungry. One way or another, Jesus inquires of all of us about our plans. How are we going to proceed? The tone of voice is genuinely kind. This is a question put to us by a God who loves us. What are you going to do? The immediate question is not about our whole life but simply about how nourishment is to be got for those who need it.
Jesus feeds us with a very special bread. He Himself provides it. He does so at immense cost to Himself. He not only multiplies the loaves He also gives Himself to those who eat at His feast. He asks us, as He does Philip, what part we are going to play in this provisioning. In a way, it is simply a question about the catering arrangements. But more is involved. The bread is bought for a high price. The prize is not light nor to be taken lightly.
The Gospel tells us that the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes took place near a Passover. We at once think of another, later, Passover. And of another miracle. Jesus gives Himself as our food when He sacrifices Himself on Calvary and rises from the dead. The Lord came into the world to make this sacrifice. He continues to make on the altar every day. The body of Christ continues to be handed over abundantly and miraculously every day. Jesus knew that this would happen. But He acknowledges our freedom and inquires what we will do. Our answers, our lives are not settled in advance. The steady willingness of Jesus Christ to provide for us exactly what we need is entirely assured.
The twelve hampers of leftovers after the feeding of the five thousand reinforce our sense that the goodness of God is abundant. He is not grudging. You open wide your hand O Lord and grant our desires. This open-handed God of ours gives to us more than we need. From the sacrifice of Calvary flows a generosity and help which is also abundant. The sacramental life of the Church is a continuation and prolongation of what Jesus has always been providing for us. He is reconciled also to our incomplete understanding of what He is doing for us. He escapes by Himself from our misconceptions. Only to return over and over again inviting us to join in the provisioning which He has undertaken for His people.
St Paul implores us to lead a life worthy of our vocation. What is this vocation? It is to be among those sustained by the body and blood of Christ. We are called to settle down near Him and to allow Him to nourish us. He tests us as He tested Philip with a question about the necessary sustenance to be bought. In a sense Philip passed the test because he understood that what was needed would cost more than he or his friends possessed. Prospero would have been satisfied that if the feeding of the people was a prize, then the apostle appreciated that such a prize could not lightly or easily be won. Philip did not yet know the full cost to Jesus of feeding His people. We also sometimes forget or overlook both the prize and its value. But we earnestly desire to understand properly and to live lives that proclaim that understanding. We are beginning to see what Jesus is giving to us and we are beginning to be grateful in the right measure.
Peter Gallagher SJ
1. Shakespeare The Tempest act 1, scene 2