After twenty-one years of priesthood, I had a stunning theological realization as I reflected on this Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 9:11b-17) of our Lord’s feeding of the multitude with some fish and some bread. This was the Church’s first potluck meal! We bring a little bit of this, we bring a little bit of that and somehow we feed the multitude! If a person wants a scriptural warrant for the potluck, here it is!
All that being said; the gospel given to us today does lead us into some profound truths about this solemnity of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. The context of need and our Lord’s response sheds light on the living mystery of the Eucharist. Immediately prior to this passage we are told that the crowds came to know where Jesus was and that he “… made them welcome …” (Lk. 11a). Our Lord recognized the peoples’ desire for the Kingdom of God as well as their spiritual hunger and need. His eyes and his heart were open in the broadness of welcome, care and love. The disciples, well, not so much. They want the Lord to dismiss the crowd. On the surface it seems an appropriate and even caring response, “Lord, dismiss them so that they can find lodging and provisions.” But surface concern can often mask over an underlying attitude of disregard. “It’s not my problem. They can fend for themselves.” But Jesus’ response of “Give them some food yourselves,” challenges all such disregard. Not only is the need and hunger of the crowd to be the disciple’s concern, the feeding and meeting of that need is to become the joy of the disciple.
I think we would be safe in saying that because Jesus is God incarnate, he could have fed the crowd on his own in some form or another but he does not do that, rather he specifically tells his disciples to give the people some food themselves! He chooses to involve them in both the situation and the solution. Our Lord wants to open the hearts of his disciples to the very same broadness of welcome, care and love that he carries in his own heart. So, in essence, he tells his disciples, “Look up. Look away from yourselves. See the crowd, see their hunger, see their need. Now, give them some food yourselves.”
How does this relate to today’s solemnity? When we authentically receive the Body and Blood of Christ given as bread and wine then our very lives must, in essence, be transformed into bread given and wine poured out for other people! “Give them some food yourselves.” This is the call of the Christian and it is critical for all ages. The Eucharist opens our eyes and our hearts to the broadness of Christ’s own welcome, care and love.
For our times, as it was for all previous times, this is truly needed. In his most recent apostolic exhortation on love and the family, Pope Francis makes this observation, “The individualism so prevalent today can lead to creating small nests of security, where others are perceived as bothersome or a threat. Such isolation, however, cannot offer greater peace or happiness; rather, it straitens the heart of a family and makes its life all the more narrow.” (AL #187)
Christ does not want his disciples to have narrow lives and narrow hearts. He did not want it for his first disciples that day of the feeding of the multitude. Even as the disciples, themselves, seemed very content to send away the crowds who were pressing in on their narrow reality. He does not want it for his disciples today. Christ does not want us to live in our own bubbles because he knows that true life and true joy is not found that way. Our Lord wants nothing less than the abundance of joy for us and for every other person. “Look up,” says our Lord, “give them some food yourselves, don’t fall into a narrow and sad life!”
The Eucharist is the very body and blood of our Lord and by its very nature and grace it transforms all who receive it authentically and honestly in faith, hope and love. “Give them some food yourselves,” says our Lord. I feel truly sorry for those who turn away from the Eucharist as if it is mere superstition or just not that important. By so doing, they are inviting a sad poverty into their lives.
The Eucharist is the very body and blood of our Lord given that we might have life and it transforms those who receive it. The Eucharist opens our own eyes and hearts to the very broadness of Christ’s own welcome, care and love.