Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle B

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mosaic Loaves and Fishes.jpg

 John 6. 1 - 15 

"seeing this sign that he had given …"

The large crowd of the Gospel story followed Jesus because they were impressed by the miracles he worked or, as the evangelist John expresses it, by "the signs he gave by curing the sick". They were soon to be treated to yet another miracle, another "sign", when Jesus fed them all with just five loaves and two fish. For a crowd of 5000 people there was simply not enough food on hand nor enough money to purchase it, yet all were fed. Then, upon "seeing this sign that he had given", they wanted to make him king. After all, who wouldn't want a leader who can miraculously cure our illnesses, freely take away our hunger, generously care for all our needs? Who wouldn't want to be a miracle-worker's friend?

Yet, in response to their enthusiasm Jesus "escaped back to the hills by himself". Why? Because their enthusiasm was misdirected. They had seen the sign, but not its significance. They were attracted to the idea of a free meal but Jesus was offering something far more substantial. They were being called to go beyond the shared bread of their impromptu hillside picnic to the real Bread, to Jesus himself, and to follow him for who he is rather than for the miracles he would perform for them.

John draws out this deeper significance for us in the manner of his telling of this incident: Jesus "took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready." The language used by John is clearly intended to echo the words of the Eucharist. He reminds us that we come to church not in search of miracles to increase our chances of living a secure and painless life in this world, but to seek what Jesus really came to give: full communion with himself and, in him, communion with God and with each other.