By Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz
What about the “wow” factor? That’s not an expression biblical scholars often use when we talk about the words and deeds of Jesus in the Gospels, but it’s useful just the same. Consider the stilling of the storm that imperiled the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, or the healing of a man suffering from paralysis, or the raising of Lazarus after his body had spent four days in the tomb.
All these have a high “wow” factor because they constitute exceptions to the laws of nature in dramatic and even spectacular ways. While we usually refer to them as miracles, the Gospels refer to them as deeds of power through which Jesus manifests the advent of God’s reign and as signs performed by Jesus that the evangelist shares so that “you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
The miracle that Luke shares in Sunday’s Gospel doesn’t have an especially high “wow” factor. If you had been among the more than five thousand people in the crowd that day, it’s not likely you would have thought there was anything miraculous about the simple fare of bread and fish that you were given to satisfy your hunger.
As for the disciples, even they don’t seem to make a big deal of it, though they balked at Jesus’ instruction to “Give them some food yourselves,” after they suggested he dismiss the crowd so that they could find lodging and provisions in the surrounding villages and farms. Five loaves of bread and two fish were all they could come up with, barely enough for themselves and certainly not sufficient to satisfy so many hungry people!
As for Jesus, he seemed unfazed by the dilemma, instructing his disciples to get the crowd organized and seated, pronouncing the blessing (a simple grace before meals), and then passing along the simple fare for the disciples to distribute. There’s not much “wow” about it until we learn that “all ate and were satisfied,” and that when they were done there were twelve baskets of leftovers.
Unspectacular as this picnic may have seemed to anyone who might have partaken of it, this is the only miracle found in all four Gospels. Besides this feeding of more than five thousand with five loaves and two fish, for good measure Matthew and Mark tell of another occasion when Jesus fed a crowd of more than four thousand with seven loaves of bread and a few fish, a meal after which there were seven baskets of leftovers.
“Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus told his disciples, and at another meal he would instruct them, “Do this in memory of me.” It isn’t hard to connect the dots, for it is in the light of that Last Supper that the disciples came to appreciate the “wow” factor of that earlier impromptu meal.
No doubt they recalled what happened when they did as Jesus had asked and so many people were fed. They came to recognize that it was Jesus himself who provided all that was needed and much more, no matter what they were lacking. “Do this in memory of me” continues to be what Jesus asks of us as he feeds us with the Eucharist, nourishing us so that we can feed others in his name.
Readings for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
1 Corinthians: 11:23-26
Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.