Cycle C: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi
They all ate and were satisfied
Luke 9: 11b-17
Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. As the day was drawing to a close the Twelve approached home and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.” Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of [about] fifty.” They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the left-over fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
- “Give them some food yourselves.” In your daily life, how are you using your unique gifts to feed others, and where do you experience others feeding you?
- “Do this in memory of Me” goes far beyond the Eucharistic celebration. In what ways do you strive to keep Jesus’ memory and mission alive in the world?
- In Jesus’ words: but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. How and where is “self-sacrifice” becoming more of who you are?
- In your daily living, where do you consciously imitate Jesus to others? Which human qualities of His are easy for you to live, and which do you find are more challenging?
Luke 9: 11b-17
Luke’s account invokes other biblical scenes. The miraculous feeding of the five thousand takes place in a desert as did the miraculous feeding of the Israelites with manna. Jesus is training the Twelve for mission, sending them out in twos to preach, telling them to trust that God will provide for their needs. He tests them by asking them to provide food for huge crowd. They propose solutions, like sending the people to find their own food, or they calculate the cost of feeding everyone. Despite their inadequacy, they are learning to depend on the abundant care which God has for them.
In the end, a miraculous feeding takes place. There are twelve baskets of leftovers, which represent the new Israel founded on the preaching and good deeds of these new leaders.
Another aspect of this scene is the question of who are these five thousand? This was not a wilderness church picnic, but a rag-tag gathering of God’s anawim, the desperate poor who, like today’s poor, have little control over their lives and thus live in chaos. This crowd was adrift, like sheep without a shepherd, the landless peasants who could pick up and follow an itinerant preacher into the desert without resources.
Palestine had suffered seven foreign occupations by the time Jesus was born. As is the case today under the current Israeli Occupation, Palestinians then had little or no control over their land and resources. They were over-taxed by Rome and Herod. Occupying armies and their dependents lived off the land, so ownership of farms and food could be forfeit from one hour to the next. Women and children were never safe from capture and abuse. Those gathered in the crowd of 5,000 were likely living in a continuous state of economic and social uncertainty.
Jesus ministers to their needs with a warm welcome, inspiring teaching, compassionate healing, and sufficient physical nourishment for everyone, with plenty of food to spare.
It is significant that the preaching and healing of Jesus is inseparable from the feeding. The late Jesuit scholar John Kavanaugh once noted how beautiful it was that Jesus gave his friends the duty of distributing food in the same way he also gave them the mission of distributing the teaching and healing work he had begun. The Apostles were being prepared to be the leaders who serve as Jesus did.
Eucharistic images, such as this miraculous multiplication account, are all harbingers of the same covenantal relationship between God and us, which has informed all of today’s reading, from ancient ages to the present. The Eucharist invites us to make a daily consecration of our lives as we commit to re-enacting the reality of God’s covenantal love.
Breaking Bodies and Pouring Out Blood
There are a number of advantages to living long enough to arrive at what is euphemistically called, “a certain age”. A “certain age” is old enough to look at younger people and be profoundly thankful you are no longer young. However, it also entails looking at younger people and thinking about how you were at that age. This may take a considerable amount of courage, and it can provoke a baffling combination of regret and smugness. In general, it is best to move away from both these inner states.
I have been fortunate enough to reach that “certain age” and also to be around a considerable group of young people, the twenty and thirty something crowd. I watch them struggle with the questions of who to be with and what to do. They live on mountaintops and in valleys. They are whipped back and forth from clarity to confusion. I marvel at their resiliency/ how they return again and again to the challenges of companionship and work. Although these quests are shaped by personality and culture, I have come to think they are built into the human makeup. They want to break their bodies and pour out their blood; and if that is not happening, something essential about them feels frustrated.
In traditional language, they are involved in sacrifice. Sacrifice is the enterprise of making life holy by contributing to it. This is a primordial disposition of the human being, and suppressing it is not easy. Da Free John has some overwrought words to say about sacrifice.
Those who cling to one or another religious or spiritual way must realize that the foundation of all such ways, is the disposition of sacrifice. Every way is, above all, a system of self-sacrifice—not of self-preservation and of immunity to life through internal or subjective fascinations. Religious and spiritual activity is, above all, moral activity. It must be expressed in a new, free, sober, and truly compassionate disposition. Such a disposition freely anoints the world with help and intelligent consideration. It finds great pleasure in the intelligent and truly human companionship of others and welcomes wise and thoughtful confrontation. And in the face of the persistent dullness of the cults such a disposition often becomes fierce and aloud: The whole Earth, the cosmos, and every separate being is a great Sacrifice! Therefore, let us consent to fulfill the Law! Let us give ourselves up, so that each temple—each bodily and mental person—may become a temporary and perishable altar of self-giving into the Mystery that pervades us. (Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House! ) Dawn Horse Press, 1980,33—34)
This is a clarion call without any hesitation. Let the games begin!
Of course, Christian eucharistic theology and spirituality have been promoting sacrifice for centuries. Often their focus has been confined to Jesus’ sacrifice and how Christians celebrate and participate in that redemptive event. But when the narratives of the Last Supper are consulted, the universal drive to “breaking the body and pouring out the blood” can be acknowledged and put in a more complete context. One of the implications of Jesus’ injunction to “do this in memory of me” is to imitate him, each person doing what he has just done. But exactly has he just done? What is the wisdom of Jesus about this universal disposition of sacrifice?
The characteristic gesture of Jesus begins with taking bread into his hands. When Jesus verbally interprets this gesture, he identifies the bread with his embodied life. But the very fact he can take his embodied life into hands indicates a distinction between who he ultimately is and his embodied life. Our final identity is a transcendent self who gathers up his or her life and readies it for action. This wisdom allows us to return again and again to the process. Sacrifice is not a random act. It is built into the permanent structure of the human person as both transcendent and immanent to the life process.
Once Jesus has gathered his life into his hands, he gives thanks for that life. He acknowledges his life is not his own. It is given Him by God in each moment. This is also true of us. It is not a matter of remembering our past birth. It is a matter of remembering the truth of our dependency in every moment, of knowing that right now we are living through the grace of the Creator. Holding fast to this truth will increase the feeling of gratitude. Gratitude: in turn, will fill us up from the inside. Filled within, we will flow without. The life freely given becomes the life we seek to freely give away. We are ready to “break the bread and pour out the blood.”
I believe meditating on Jesus’ eucharistic gesture can make us smarter and more effective at sacrificing, to which we are naturally disposed. His gesture suggests we hold together transcendence, gratitude, and sacrifice. All three must be included for full living. If we just see ourselves as transcendent, always more than the circumstances we are immersed in, we will be aloof and uninvolved. We will have the haunted feeling we are never really “in” the life we are living. If we live in gratitude and do not move to sacrifice, we risk an egocentricity. We count our blessings and do not realize they are separating us from others. If we try to sacrifice ourselves without first giving thanks, we run the risk of becoming resentful. We pour ourselves out and find we are empty. So, we short-circuit the process and stop giving ourselves away. We tell ourselves we are playing it smart; we have finally wised up. If we are to flourish as truly human beings, sacrifice must be coupled with transcendence and gratitude. So, when we discover within ourselves a drive to give ourselves away, a drive we sense we must obey, it is good to remember and consult the One who knows about breaking his body and pouring out his blood.