Breaking of Bread

07-25-2021Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

At Sunday Mass we read a major gospel each church year which tells the story of Jesus and His life; in this process we read only selected sections which have been curated to tell the essential story of Jesus Christ. In fact, we read from only Matthew, Mark, or Luke in a three-year cycle because they are gospels which are written from an "eye-witness" point of view. The Gospel of John offers a distinctly different view of the life and message of Jesus. This year our gospel is that of Saint Mark. We do, however, fill in at times with sections from the Gospel of John. Mark is the shortest of all of the gospels, so it is necessary at times to read at length from John to add a depth or a dimension to what we are following in the life of Christ each Sunday. This Sunday we begin the section of John called "the Bread of Life" passage. The Eucharist is the focus of our reading of the Gospel of John for the next 4 weeks. Perhaps these readings will help us put the proper focus on the controversies which are circulating in our Church and in the American public world. I am attempting to provide a reflection for your faith which hopefully supports and helps you to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, instead of being caught up in other things. How often have I said "to know what matters and pay attention to what matters." This advice sounds simple, but often it is very hard to follow.

Our first reading and the Gospel passage resonate as similar readings this weekend. They are both about tales of scarcity to abundance. They are actually stories of the presence of God's grace. We hear in our first reading about the prophet Elisha who along with his men, are in a place where there is no water and no food. It takes the kindness of a farmer, a stranger so to speak, to provide food which would just basically feed the 100 men. A confused servant says this is so. Elisha, as leader, gave orders to distribute the food which is actually 20 loaves of bread. But, by God's actions, this bread becomes more than enough for all of them.

This same occurrence of scarcity, but sufficiency is found in John's story of the multiplication of the loaves. John, however, adds the element of fish to the story, but the loaves of bread are still loaves of bread. We also learn in John's story that Phillip is worried about how the vast crowd can be fed at all, yet we learn that Jesus calmly directs his followers to organize the crowd for the distribution of food to follow. Phillip is similar to Elisha's servant who also wondered and doubted. Although there was more than enough food in the end, the crowd did not really understand what had happened. Their concern was about getting enough to eat each day and they wanted a leader, a king, to make sure that they had this necessary food. The crowd had lived through famine and failed crops, and they were focused on having sufficient food to eat to survive. Jesus slipped away because their minds were preoccupied with this obsession of their next meal.

This story of the multiplication of the loaves is told more frequently than any other in the four gospels. In the four gospels we may fail to realize that the story of Christmas is told only once in Luke and the story of the Three Kings, the Magi told only once in Matthew. Each gospel writer has his own selection of stories to tell about the Resurrection. This story of the multiplication of loaves and of fishes is actually narrated six different times in the four gospels. Obviously, the story of the Eucharist is of the greatest importance to the early believers because this story of the Eucharist is essential to the formation of the early church. The story is really about the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving of bread and these very actions are identified with Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and present among us. Note how the Last Supper passages use these same words and intend the early Church to form around Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. We often fail to recognize that before the early Church had a name; it had the celebration of the Eucharist. The Canon of the Mass has words and rituals which resemble the earliest celebration of the Eucharist, "Masses" through the centuries have many, many accretions which have come and gone through time.

The Gospel of this weekend is a direct allusion to the Holy Eucharist. We as followers of Jesus Christ should come to realize that it is in "the breaking of bread" that we come to recognize Jesus Christ among us. If Jesus is among us, let us work and act each day to be worthy of this gift.