The Meaning of Jesus' Miracles, Part II:
The Loaves and the Eucharist
continued from 'The Meaning of Jesus' Miracles'
“And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples …” (MATT. 14:19)
“ Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples …" (MATT. 26:26)
Even a superficial glance at the two verses above reveal the deep similarities between the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish on the one hand, and the establishment of the Eucharist itself on the other. The verbal identity in both accounts is based on the Greek original. We could say that the miracle of the loaves and fish clearly anticipates and prepares for the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus nourished the souls and bodies of the many people who came to hear Him speak, and who then found themselves hungry in a “lonely place” with only five loaves and two fish at hand. The teaching and food of this miracle that occurred on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee establishes a pattern that we follow to this day in the Liturgy. In the same order, we first hear the Word of God proclaimed in the reading of the Scriptures, through which we hear the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospels; and then, “hungry for more,” we receive the food of the Eucharist – Christ Himself – as it enters our members, our veins and our hearts (Post-communion Prayer of Thanksgiving).
The multiplication of the loaves and fish must have been quite an overwhelming event. It is not explicitly stated in St. Matthew’s account that the crowd of people was aware of its source of food. We do not hear of the usual reaction of wonder and awe in the presence of one of Christ’s dynamic acts. Perhaps many of the crowd were aware of the fact that the food that sustained them had its source in Jesus, and that they could not account for that in a purely natural manner. Be that as it may, the reader of the Gospel is aware of what actually occurred and is able to glorify God for the action of the Lord. The world of nature will yield to its Lord and Creator for the sake of those who are recipients of divine compassion and care. Here, indeed, was a great miracle. Yet, I would propose that we are present and are witnesses of an even greater “miracle” each and every time we assemble for the Liturgy. Our offering is also humble: a prepared loaf of bread that we term “prosphora” (from the Gk. word for offering) and a relatively small amount of wine in a cruet. And then this humble offering of the most basic food and drink will become, through the grace of God and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the very Body and Blood of Christ. Here, indeed, is an even greater miracle! There is nothing else like it in the entire world.
I hope that we never lose sight of what we are actually doing and experiencing on at least a weekly basis. It is painful to think that we can walk out of the church at the end of the Liturgy – or casually, if not eagerly, enter the church hall for the food and drink of the “coffee hour” - somehow untouched by the overwhelming miracle of the Eucharist that we are so privileged to be a part of by the grace of God. We cannot allow familiarity to breed some form or another of indifference or obtuseness within us when the Lord is acting on our behalf in such a powerful manner. That would be a sin. It is quite difficult to maintain a consistent spiritual vigilance. But it is precisely this very vigilance that we must protect and preserve when we approach the Eucharist. That is the responsibility we all share for the gift of witnessing an incomparable miracle that was anticipated and prepared for us when Jesus, out of compassion, multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed the five thousand.