Jesus Feeds the Multitude: a Reflection for Ministers of Communion (Part 1)

August 24, 2016

by Fr. Jonah Pollock, O.P., Associate Director, Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York Bringing Holy Communion to the sick is an important part of Catholic health care ministry. In this reflection, we will consider the gospel accounts of Jesus feeding the multitude in order to deepen our understanding of what this ministry is all about. The Gospel of John makes a profound connection between Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude and Jesus’ feeding his people his people with his body and blood in the Eucharist. In the beginning of chapter six, Saint John gives his account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. This provides the background for Jesus’ famous discourse on the bread of life. After the miraculous feeding, when the crowds follow Jesus across the sea, he observes, “I tell you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). He then exhorts them, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). He goes on to say, “I am the living bread that come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). In John’s gospel, the miraculous feeding with “food that perishes” introduces his disciples to the Eucharistic food, his own body and blood, “that endures for eternal life.” The other three gospels make the same connection in a different way. Unlike John’s, Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels all include accounts of Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In each of those accounts, Jesus is described is doing four things before telling his disciples, “This is my body.” He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it. In their accounts of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowds, the evangelists use the very same words. In Luke, for example, we read, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9:16). The evangelists’ parallel use of these four verbs in recounting Jesus’ feeding the multitude and his institution of the Eucharist is striking. Once again, Jesus’ miraculous feeding points to the miracle of the Eucharist. The connection between Jesus’ feeding of the multitude and his gift of the Eucharist allows us to draw on the accounts of the former to better understand the latter. What we read about Jesus feeding the multitude can deepen our appreciation of how Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. This can be especially fruitful for those of us who serve as ministers of Holy Communion, whether at Mass or to the sick and disabled in their homes or health care facilities. Let us consider a few examples. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Saint Mark’s words describe the tenderness and love that motivate Jesus’ miraculous feeding. It is with the same pity and the same purpose that Jesus feeds his people with his body and blood in the Eucharist. Communion is a gift of merciful love. Every time someone worthily receives the Lord in this Blessed Sacrament, Jesus acts as the Good Shepherd, gathering that person more securely into the sheepfold of his Church. “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves” (Matt 14:16). With these words, Jesus enlists his disciples in the work of feeding the multitude. Jesus could have done this without their help. Nevertheless, Jesus’ wanted to involve them in his miraculous feeding. In the same way, Jesus wants to involve his disciples in feeding his people in Holy Communion. Those whom the Church ordains and commissions as ministers of Holy Communion are chose by Jesus to be his instruments in feeding the hungry crowd with his body and blood. “When they had had their fill, he said to the disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted” (John 6:12). Jesus instructs his disciples to collect the remaining fragments. In the accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke, we read that those fragments filled twelve wicker baskets. Jesus had his disciples take care that everything was preserved and nothing wasted. How much more care should we show for every fragment of the bread of life that is Jesus himself? Part 2 will appear next Wednesday, August 31st. This weekly series Reflections on Ethics, Faith, and Health Care is from DFHCMNY logo a ministry of the Province of St. Joseph centered at St. Catherine of Siena Priory in New York City

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