Reflecting on God’s Word, the Church would like us to dwell on some important aspects of our Eucharistic Celebrations. And, since our Eucharistic Celebrations are at the heart of our life on earth, while being also a renewed pledge of the eternal Eucharist of heaven, the aspects on which we should dwell will shape and give meaning to all that we are and do.
First, how do we know that the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are about the Eucharist? As far as the Old Testament is concerned, over the centuries the Church has had an ever-clearer understanding of gestures, signs, and events which she saw and sees as leading up to, and as symbols of, the greatest gift of God to humanity, His very Self under the humble species of bread and wine.
Here are some examples: the barley loaves offered to the prophet Elisha to feed a hundred people, the manna in the desert, the bread and wine offered by the priest Melchizedek, and the food that God provided for the prophet Elijah in the wilderness. There are other examples, but I’m sure you get the point.
The main event leading to a fuller understanding of the Eucharist remains, of course, the Passover deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and the Passover meal (Seder) celebrated by the Hebrews, each year, on the 14th of the month of Nisan. In the Gospel of John (6:1-15), Jesus has the same gestures that the head of a Jewish household would have during the Seder meal.In this context, it is now easy for us to see the correlation made in today’s gospel passage between these Old Testament gestures/signs/events and the Eucharist. This passage is found at the beginning of the 6th chapter of the gospel of John; a chapter which is all about Jesus as the Bread of life.
Jesus feeds us with His Word of life and with His Flesh and Blood. Perhaps one of the most crucial components of a proper and profitable celebration of the Eucharist has to be found in the very challenge that each Eucharistic Celebration presents. I am referring, mainly, to the mistake of keeping our expectations low as we are fed the real Bread from heaven. We must never lower what we expect of God to the same level of our meager expectations in dealing with each other. We are just frail and unreliable human beings. He is our almighty God with whom all things are possible!
Now, because we have been celebrating the Eucharist since our First Communion, we often do Eucharist as some sort of “holy routine.” If so, chances are that we might walk out of church with just a little sensation of warmth in our heart. And such little warmth would dissipate very rapidly, with almost no impact on our life.
I am afraid that this attitude is a brazen affront to God and to His boundless power and generosity. This attitude of “playing it safe” with God and of not expecting a whole lot from Him, not even in Holy Communion, has always been part of human nature. This warped reasoning goes something like this: “Expect little so that you won’t be disappointed.” Well, this flawed theory doesn’t work with God.
Look at the reaction of Elisha’s servant: How can I set this before a hundred people?
Or Philip’s: Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each one of them to have a little.
Or Andrew’s: There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?
No matter how often, or how rarely, we do Eucharist and receive the Lord in Holy Communion, we should never, ever, place on God any limit to what He wishes to do unto us and with us. Not only would such an attitude reveal a lack of faith, but it would also reveal crass ignorance as to the extent of His power and of His love for us.
But why is it so crucial for us to go beyond our wildest expectations as we place ourselves in a receiving mode before our God? Because, whether we like it or not, whether we do all we can relying on our human resources, times will come when we will feel totally lost, totally helpless, surrounded by a solid brick wall with no cracks for us to slip through. This is, or will be, true of our life as individuals; this is also true of our collective, global existence as a group, a nation, a Church. Need I mention, for example, our collective powerlessness in establishing lasting peace in so many troubled spots of our tormented and insane world? Or how quickly our life can come to an abrupt end unexpectedly due to terrorism or a mad turn of events?
What is required of us, then, every single time we do Eucharist and feed on the Body and Blood of Christ, is to open our hands wide and let God have our 5 loaves and 2 fish.Not 3 loaves and a fish, or 4 loaves and a fish; all five loaves and both fishes. The boy in today’s gospel had nothing left in his hands; and we all know how young people are always hungry!
What is required of us is to be constantly before God in a mode that has pulled out all stops and surrendered every last ounce of control of our life over to Him. God alone can do the humanly impossible; God alone will do the humanly impossible within His mysterious plan of salvation.
However, to expect the Lord to deliver as He alone can deliver (perform miracles) without having first given all that we have over to Him would prompt Him to withdraw from us as He withdrew from those people who thought that they would solve all their problems by appointing a miracle-worker as their king.
The Lord will always be there for us (as God alone can be) and surprise us. But for that to happen, He first has to become our source of genuine security and reliance while we continue to do our part with accountability, courage and perseverance.