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Of all the things done by Jesus during his prophetic activity, the most remembered by the first Christian communities was surely a huge meal organized by him out in the countryside, near the lake of Galilee. It’s the only story recounted in all the Gospels.
The content of the story concerns a great wealth. As is his custom, John in his Gospel doesn’t call it a «miracle», but rather a «sign». That’s how he invites us to not get stuck in the deeds narrated, but to discover a more profound meaning from the perspective of faith.
Jesus is in center stage. No one asks him to intervene. He himself is the one who senses the hunger of that people and who suggests the need to feed them. It’s moving to know that Jesus doesn’t just feed the people with the Good News of God, but that he’s also concerned about the hunger God’s children feel.
How to feed a crowd in the middle of the countryside? The disciples can’t find a way. Philip says that no one can think about buying bread, since they don’t have money. Andrew thinks that they could share what’s there, but the young man only has five loaves and a few fish. What’s that among so many?
For Jesus it’s enough. That nameless and faceless young man is going to make possible what seems impossible. His readiness to share all that he has is the path to feed those people. Jesus will do the rest. He takes in his hands the young man’s loaves, he gives thanks to God, and begins to «distribute them» among all.
The scene is fascinating. A crowd sitting in the green grass of the countryside, sharing a free meal on a Spring day. It’s not a banquet of the rich. There’s no wine or meat. It’s the simple food of the people who live along the lake: barley bread and salted fish. A fraternal meal served by Jesus to everyone, thanks to a young man’s generous deed.
This shared food was for the early Christians an attractive symbol of the community, born of Jesus to build a new and fraternal humanity. At the same time it brought to mind the Eucharist that they celebrated on the Day of the Lord, so they could be nourished by the spirit and the power of Jesus: the Living Bread come from God.
But they never forgot the young man’s deed. If there’s hunger in the world, it’s not because of the scarcity of food, but the lack of solidarity. There’s bread for all; the generosity to share it is lacking. We’ve left the progress of the world in the hands of an inhuman economic power, we’re afraid to share what we have, and people die of hunger because of our senseless selfishness.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf