18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind.  That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Messianic Banquet
This Sunday's readings remind us that God is faithful to His promise to satisfy our spiritual hunger and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  In today's First Reading, God promises, through His prophet Isaiah, the invitation to a future Messianic banquet.  Isaiah's oracle is a call for conversion to receive the salvific gifts that are freely extended to the covenant people and to all nations who turn to the Lord God of Israel.  The oracle also includes a reference to the renewal of the Davidic covenant and a future everlasting covenant.  Christians read this passage as an invitation to take part in the new and eternal covenant sealed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, the heir and inheritor of the Davidic covenant.  The future Messiah was promised to inaugurate a new and eternal covenant in a Messianic banquet.  Jesus and His Church fulfills Isaiah's prophetic oracle.  Jesus invites all who are thirsty to come to the "living water" of Christian Baptism (Jn 4:10, 14), and the spiritually hungry are freely given food at the Eucharistic table as they receive the Body and Blood of the Lord to nourish them on their journey to salvation. 

In today's Responsorial Psalm, we sing "God gives us food in due season."  God is Master of the earth, and humanity looks to Him for the food that comes from the earth in all seasons.  God's Kingdom is a kingdom of justice.  He responds with compassion and salvation to everyone who invokes His name and seeks communion with Him. 

In our Second Reading, St. Paul offers a hymn praising God's love and faithfulness.  Paul writes that Jesus Christ frees Christians from the dominion of sin and death.  Christ frees us from love slavery to sin, the old ritual Law, and from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered life.  Paul assures Christians that, through their rebirth into the family of God through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, they receive freedom and power over the forces in life that drag humanity down into iniquities that lead to the destruction of body and soul.  Jesus Christ, in assuming humanity's fragility, has triumphed through His death and Resurrection.  He has not only conquered all these destructive forces, but He has communicated that victory to those who have accepted His call to salvation

Jesus' miraculous feeding of the more than five thousand in the Gospel Reading recalls other miracle feedings from the Old Testament.  Matthew's telling of the miracle is not only meant to remind us of Jesus' compassion but to also prepare us for the promise of a greater miracle.  The Jews saw Jesus' feeding miracle in the context of the miracle of the manna in the Exodus out of Egypt.  They recognized Jesus as the new Moses who has come to liberate His people and the new David come to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel.  Jesus' feeding miracles in the Gospels and the Bread of Life discourse look forward to the day when Jesus, the Davidic Messiah, will give His flesh and blood as food and drink for the salvation of man.  He gives His faithful the spiritual nourishment they need in the Eucharistic Banquet in His earthly Kingdom of the Church. 

Be aware today when you celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist that you are taking part in an even greater miracle than Jesus' feeding of the more than five thousand on that mountainside in the Galilee over two thousand years ago.  Jesus, the eternal Bridegroom, calls you to the Messianic Banquet of the New and eternal Covenant in Christ Jesus in which He feeds you His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity on your journey to eternal salvation and in preparation for the future Banquet of the Lamb and His Bride in the heavenly Kingdom when He returns in glory.

The First Reading Isaiah 55:1-3 ~ Invitation to the Banquet of the Lord's Covenant
1 Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!  2 Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?  Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.  3 Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.  I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.

The Lord's invitation to the covenant banquet in Isaiah chapter 55 is part of the second section of Book of Isaiah called "The Book of Consolation" that began with a prologue in chapter 40.  The oracle is a call for conversion and to receive the salvific gifts of the Lord that are freely extended to God's covenant people and to all nations (verses 1-2) who turn to the Lord.  In verse 3, Christians read the reference to an everlasting covenant and to the renewal of the Davidic covenant (see 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; 1 Kng 2:4; 11:9-20; 1 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:25) as an invitation to take part in the New and eternal Covenant sealed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, the heir and inheritor of the Davidic covenant (Lk 1:32-33).  It is a New Covenant that promises a Messianic Banquet as a present and future reality.  The invitation is first fulfilled in the words spoken by Jesus to the woman of Samaria (Jn 4:10-14), to the Jews on the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:37-38) and in the words He spoke when He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, saying: "This is my body, which will be given for you ... This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you" (Lk 22:19-20).  This oracle also looks forward to the future reality of the Eschatological Banquet of the Saints, the "Wedding Feast of the Lamb" at the end of time (Rev 19:6-9).

Concerning the Messianic Banquet of the Eucharist, Pope Paul VI wrote: "How could we fail to take part in this encounter, to partake of the banquet that Christ has lovingly prepared for us?  Our participation should be dignified and filled with joy.  Christ, crucified and glorified, comes among his disciples to draw them all into the power of his resurrection.  It is the pinnacle, here on earth, of the covenant of love between God and his people: the sign and source of Christian joy, the preparation for the eternal banquet in heaven" (Gaudete in Domino, 322).

Responsorial Psalm 145:8-9, 15-18 ~ Food in due Season
The response is: "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.  9 The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
Response:
15 The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; 16 you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
Response:
17 The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.  18 The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.
Response:

The title of Psalm 145 is A Song of Praise. Of David.  This alphabetical Psalm, ascribed to King David, begins and ends in praise of Yahweh.  In verses 8-9 the psalmist focuses on the grace and mercy of the Lord, quoting from God's revelation of Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 which refers to God's attributes of goodness, to the covenant He formed with Israel, and to the love He extends to all (verses 8-9).

Since God is master of the earth, humanity looks to God for the food that comes from the earth in all seasons (verses 15-16).  God's kingdom is a kingdom of justice (verse 17) because He responds with compassion and salvation to everyone who invokes His name and seeks His justice and truth (verse 18).  Notice that verse 18 tells us how we should pray.  St. John of the Cross wrote: "There is no better way to be granted the petitions that we hold in our hearts than to put all the strength of our prayer into what is most pleasing to God; for then he will not only grant us what we ask—our salvation; he will also give us what he sees we need and what would be good for us, even though we did not petition him for it" (Ascent of Mount Carmel, 3.44.2).

The Second Reading Romans 8:35, 37-39 ~ The Love of Christ
35 What will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  [...]  37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

At this point in St. Paul's letter to the Christians of Rome, his words burst forth in a hymn extolling God's love and faithfulness.  He assures us that nothing can separate us from God's love.  Paul writes that Jesus Christ has freed Christians from the dominion of sin and death, from a disordered love of self, and slavery to the old Law.  He assures Christians that through their rebirth into the family of God through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, they have received freedom and power over the forces in life that drag humanity down into iniquities that lead to destruction of body and soul.  Jesus Christ, in assuming humanity's fragility, has triumphed through His death and resurrection.  He has not only conquered all these destructive forces, but He has communicated that victory to those who have accepted God's call to salvation and have been molded to the pattern of his Son ... those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory (Rom 8:29b-30).  These are the ones Paul first wrote of in Romans 1:17, The one who is righteous by faith will live!  Now, in a jubilant hymn of praise, Paul sums up all the gifts of divine love that humanity has received through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul begins his hymn with a rhetorical question in verse 36.  It is as though Paul is assuming the role of a prosecuting attorney in a law court examining the Christian who is called to testify to his faith.   Old Testament parallels can be found in Job chapters 1-2 and Zechariah chapter 3. In verse 37 Paul answers his own question with a definitive "NO!" and offers a list of temporal hardships that cannot have power over us or remove us from the love of God.

In the answer to his question, spoken on behalf of the Christian responding to this examination, Paul affirms God's dominion over the entire cosmos and all that it contains.  In verses 38-39, he lists powers that are subject to God's authority.

  1. Death: Sin is the author of death, but Christ has conquered both sin and death which no longer have power over justified believers;
  2. Life: God is the author of life, and it is through the saving work of Christ that the Christian has received the gift of eternal life;
  3. Angels:  "Angels" may refer to fallen angels in partnership with Satan (Rev 12:7-9). 
  4. Powers and principalities: These are demon powers like fallen angels that are hostile to humanity; these are still subject to the power of God (see Ephesians 1:21; 3:18). 
  5. Nor the heights nor the depths:  Represent the opposite extremes of Heaven and the grave.

"... nor any other creature (created thing) will be able to separate us and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Paul assures us that neither power from the natural world, nor any power from the supernatural realm can rupture the union of love between Christ and the Christian. 

But, there is one force Paul does not name and that is our free will.  Can the Christian, exercising his/her free will, rupture his/her union with God?  In Romans 8:35-38, St. Paul notes trials and forces but not sins; it is a clear distinction from what he had to say about the list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  The misinterpretation of this passage led Martin Luther to believe that even sin couldn't separate us from Jesus Christ.  Luther concluded that man suffered from a total depravity of nature, but Christ's sacrificial death covered our sinful nature like snow covers a dunghill.  The Catholic Church rejects Luther's doctrine of the depravity of nature.  The Catholic Church teaches that we are not simply covered, as in the coving of sins in the Old Testament, but that we are reborn and transformed (CCC 168, 403).  Our new life in the Spirit provides the fertile soil in which the Holy Spirit continues to provide Christian growth as long as we seek to imitate Christ in our lives and reject sin.

Some Protestant churches, confused in their understanding of faith and works, have come to understand through the teachings of Martin Luther that nothing, not even sin can separate us from our salvation.  Some Protestant churches have understood this doctrine to mean once one is "saved" their salvation is eternally secure.  Luther's doctrine is often called "the doctrine of eternal security" or "security of the believer."  Luther did not see sin as a hindrance to salvation as long as one prayed and confessed sins.  Quoting from the letters of Martin Luther:

Luther was not advocating sinning so grace could abound all the more but that repentance eliminated the stain of sin and offered complete restoration with no ill effects.  He taught that as long as one prayed and confessed the sin, the sin could not cost one's salvation since Jesus forgave the sin through His sacrifice on the Cross.  Luther believed that so long as one was truly "saved" through a profession of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord—the false doctrine of salvation through "faith alone"—one was saved no matter what the sin (refuted in Jam 2:24 and the only place in Scripture where the words "faith alone" are found).  St. John the Apostle taught that not all sins are healed by prayer, and he distinguished between venial and deadly/mortal sins (see 1 John 3:3-10; 5:16, and CCC# 1854-61).  Mortal sin requires confession to a priest who hears the confession "in the person of Christ."  God can forgive all sin, even mortal sin, but it is necessary to address one's accountability for sin through an act of penance.   Forgiveness is one thing, but justice through accountability is another.  Confession, genuine contrition, forgiveness and an act of penance are all necessary for restoration of fellowship with God.

Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters point to Romans 8:38 as a proof text for the doctrine of "eternal security"/"security of the believer."  However, this verse addresses God's love; it does not address our salvation, and the verse lists demons (powers and principalities), and angels, and things of creation, but it does not list sin.  Jesus commanded that St. John send seven letters to seven churches in the Book of Revelation.   The "perfect" number 7, in essence, represented all the churches that formed the one true Church of Jesus Christ.  In those letters, Jesus warned that only those who persevere to the end and "prove victorious" will receive the gift of salvation.   If salvation is already assured, why is such a warning necessary, and why is there a need for perseverance?

In his letters, St. Paul continually warned the faithful that salvation was a process that took place during their journey through life, and they must carefully guard their salvation on that journey: So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).  And Paul said of himself: The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18, emphasis added).  Paul also writes of safeguarding his salvation as one who is running a race with a clear goal—that goal being salvation.  He concludes the passage by writing: No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:27).  And just before the passage in our reading of Romans 8:38-39, Paul wrote in Romans 8:24-25: For in hope we are saved.  Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.  Paul is writing that we "hope" for heaven because, no matter if we have been justified through our baptism and faithful in our journey to salvation, we know we still might lose our salvation through our own free will by entering into mortal sin.  We must, therefore, cling to the promises of Christ, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God and only we can separate ourselves from the salvation Christ has won for us.  St. Caesarius, Bishop of Arles, wrote: "Spiritual souls are not separated by torments, but carnal souls are sometimes separated by idle gossip.  The cruel sword cannot separate the former, but carnal affections remove the latter.  Nothing hard breaks down spiritual men, but even flattering words corrupt the carnal" (Caesarius of Arles [470-542], Sermons, 82.2).

The Gospel of Matthew 14:13-21 ~ The Miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand
13 When Jesus heard of it, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.  14 When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.  15 When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves."  16 Jesus said to them, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves."  17 But they said to him, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here."  18 Then he said, "Bring them here to me," 19 and he ordered the crowds to sit down [anaklino = recline] on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.  20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full.  21 Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.  [..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 42).

The story of the feeding miracle of the five thousand begins with Jesus withdrawing to a quiet place, probably to pray and to grieve over St. John's suffering and death.  St. Mark tells us that Jesus invited the disciples to join Him, to "rest a while," and to go by boat to "a deserted place" which St. Luke records was near Bethsaida on the northeast side of the lake.  In the fourth Gospel, St. John includes the information in 6:3 that Jesus went up onto a "mountain;" the Greek word is oros (also see Mt 14:23 and 15:29 where the inspired writer uses the same word).  It is a significant addition since the word "mountain" has symbolic significance in Scripture associated with revelations of God (cf., Gen 22:2; Ex 19:16-19; 24:12-13; 2 Chr 3:1; Mt 5:1; 17:1-2; Acts 1:11-12; etc.)  Also see the chart "Holy Mountains of God." Many people saw them leave and followed them, arriving before them (Mk 6:30-33).

Taking pity on the crowds of people because "they were like sheep without a shepherd," Jesus began to teach them (Mk 6:34).  Sts. Mark and John set the event of the feeding of the five thousand in the early spring when the grass was green.  Large crowds of Jewish pilgrims and Gentile converts were journeying from Asia Minor and Mesopotamia through the Galilee to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover and the required pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread (Mk 6:39; Jn 6:4).  It is the second year of Jesus' ministry.

At first glance, this story of the feeding miracle seems to be only concerned with Jesus' compassion and His supernatural ability to meet the needs of His people, but there is so much more to understand concerning this event.  His miracle feeding recalls other miracle feedings from the Old Testament and allusions to King David who God anointed to "shepherd" His flock.  For example see Ex 16:4-13, 35; Num 11:31-34; 1 Sam 16:11-13; 2 Sam 5:1-2; 1 Kng 17:8-16; 2 Kng 4:42-44 and Ps 23:1

And there is the allusion to Jesus as the David-like shepherd who cares for His flock and who leads them to lie down a green pasture as He prepares the table of the Messiah's banquet before them (Ps 23).  Jesus is the new Moses, the new David, and the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Matthew's telling of the miracle of feeding the more than five thousand is not only meant to remind us of God's compassion in the Old Testament but to also prepare us for a greater miracle.  The miracle feeding of the more than five thousand prepares us for Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse which took place the day after the miracle feeding.  In that discourse, the Jews saw Jesus' feeding miracle the day before in the context of the miracle of the manna.  They recognized Jesus as the new Moses who came to liberate His people and the new David who came to re-establish the kingdom of Israel (see Jn 6:14-15; 30-31).  In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus promises that He will one day give His flesh and blood as food and drink for the salvation of man (Jn 6:22-65).  His miracle feeding and the discourse the next day is a foreshadowing of the giving of Himself in the Eucharist. 

In our Gospel reading, Jesus miraculously transforms five loaves of barley bread (only St. John includes the detail that it was less expensive barley bread in Jn 6:9) and two fishes into enough food to feed the crowd.  First He tells them to recline in groups on the grass (Mark's Gospel records that the groups were composed of fifty and one hundred people; Mk 6:39-40).  Then Jesus blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the food to His disciples to distribute to the people.  We are only told that five thousand men were fed, not counting the women and children so the number was maybe twice or three times as many.

This miracle feeding was a supernatural event and not an example of the people sharing food they already brought with them.  The number five is the number of grace, and any multiple of a number signifies an abundance of the symbolic nature of the number.  In this case, the number signifies the abundance of God's grace in meeting the needs of His people.  The five loaves and two fishes of may have symbolic significance.  Together they add up to the number seven; it is also one of the "perfect" numbers (3, 7, 10 and 12), signifying perfection, fullness and completion, especially spiritual perfection (see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture").

Notice how carefully Matthew has provided several similarities between the miracle feeding of the more than five thousand and the miracle feeding at the Last Supper that fulfilled the promise of the Messianic Banquet by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading (see Mt 26:20, 26-30).  Matthew used the same wording and in the same order:

The Feeding Miracle of the More Than Five Thousand The Last Supper
1. It was evening when the meal took place (Mt 14:15) 1. It was evening when the meal took place (Mt 26:20)
2. They (the crowd) reclined to eat (Mt 14:19) 2. They (the disciples) reclined to eat (Mt 26:20)
3. Jesus blessed the food (Mt 14:19) 3. Jesus blessed the food (Mt 26:26)
4. He broke the loaves (Mt 14:19) 4. He broke the loaves (Mt 26:26)
5. Jesus passed the food to the disciples (Mt 14:19) 5. Jesus passed the food to the disciples (Mt 26:26)

This miracle feeding foreshadowed the first Eucharistic banquet at the Last Supper but in no way was it the same miracle.  It was not a sacred feast as in the eating of the Passover sacrifice at the Last Supper on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  In the feeding miracle of the more than five thousand, the bread was barley bread (Jn 6:9) and not unleavened wheat bread, and fish was the meat of the meal and not the roasted sacrificed lamb or kid of the Passover.  The miracle multiplication of the loaves and fishes prefigures the feeding the Eucharist to the faithful of the world and the promise of the eschatological banquet after the "final harvest" at the end of time (Is 25:6; 62:8-9; 65:13-14; Jer 31:12-14; Ez 44:16; Rev 19:7-9). 

The Catechism interprets Jesus' miracle feedings of the more than five thousand and the four thousand: "The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributed the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist.   The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the Hour of Jesus' glorification.  It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father's kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ" (CCC 1335).

The Jews who took part in the feeding miracle certainly understood it as a miracle similar to the feeding miracles in the Exodus journey (Jn 6:14, 30-31).  The Gospel writers and the early Church Fathers also understood the miracle was meant to prefigure the feeding miracle in the Eucharist (see Jn 6:22-65).  They also saw it as prefiguring the promise of the coming eschatological banquet in the heavenly Kingdom (see verses listed above), recalling the promises of the prophets like Isaiah in our first reading and in Isaiah 26:6-8On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.  On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.  The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken (Is 26:6-8).  The feeding miracle of the five thousand (not counting women and children) is retold in all four Gospels (Mk 6:31-34; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-13.

18 Then he said, "Bring them here to me," 19 and he ordered the crowds to sit down [anaklino = recline] on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 
It is significant that Jesus gave the food to the disciples to feed the crowd. When the Kingdom comes, it will be Jesus' disciples, the priests of the New Covenant order, who will be responsible for feeding the children of the Kingdom Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharistic banquet.  Notice that in blessing the meal in verse 19 that Jesus takes on the role of the Jewish father in blessing the food before the meal. 

20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full.  21 Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. 
That each person had enough to eat to be satisfied may be an allusion to the promise in Deuteronomy 8:9 that covenant obedience will mean that the people will eat bread without stint and where you will lack nothing and the following warning: But when you have eaten your fill, you must bless the LORD, your God (Dt 8:10).  The warning is followed by God's command to remember the provisions He has made for His people and to be grateful (Dt 8:11).  We should act upon this command for gratitude whenever we receive the Eucharistic "bread of Christ" in the sacrifice of the Mass.

It is also significant that after everyone ate until they were full, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers.  The Greek word kophinos in verse 20 is used for very large baskets made of wicker.  It is the same Greek word for the basket used to lower St. Paul over the wall of the city of Damascus (Acts 9:25).  In the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, twelve is the number of divine order in government (i.e., the twelve sons of Israel who were the physical fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles who became the spiritual fathers of the new Israel of the New Covenant Church).  In John's Gospel account, the word translated "fragments" or "scraps" in the plural in most translations, but in the Greek text of verse 20, the word is the singular and not plural (Jn 6:12).  In the Greek the word, klasma (Strong's #2801), in the singular means a single piece, of the "scrap or fragment left over, indicating one whole" (IBGE, vol. IV, page 265).  The Gospel of John emphasizes the identity of the fragment (singular) with the original loaves left over from the meal of the five barley loaves (Jn 6:13 NJB).  The unique meaning of this passage was obvious to the early Church as is indicated in the Eucharistic Prayer found in the early Church document known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or more simply as The Didache [Teaching]: "Concerning the broken bread: 'We give Thee thanks, Our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy Servant. To Thee be the glory for evermore.  As this broken bread was scattered over the mountain and then, when gathered, became one, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom'" (The Didache, 9:3-4, Eucharistic Prayer; written circa 50-120AD; emphasis added).

Many scholars believe that this Eucharistic prayer originated in the Holy Land.  The idea of Israel being "scattered" and then "gathered" was familiar to the Jews and Israelites (see Dt 28:25; Jer 34:17; Judith 5:23; Ps 146:2; Ez 34:5-6, 11-12, etc.).  Don't miss the symbolism in Jesus' feeding miracles of the food scattered among the people and then the remains gathered again.  St. John's Gospel tells us that this event occurred before the Passover festival when pilgrims from across the Roman world were making their way to Jerusalem for the week-long pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread (see Jn 6:4; Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13).  It is the mission of the Messiah to gather in the scattered tribes of Israel (Ez 34).  In this feeding miracle, there were twelve baskets of leftover food collected, one for each of the twelve Apostles.  Beginning in the Holy Land that was once the covenant nation of Israel, but where the covenant people came to be "scattered" among the Gentile nations of the earth, Jesus is symbolically "gathering" the whole of Israel.  He begins by gathering the descendants of the twelve tribes born from the twelve physical fathers who were the sons of Jacob-Israel to Himself.  His mission is to establish His Kingdom by renewing and redeeming His covenant people under the leadership of the twelve spiritual fathers of the new Israel, the Apostles, who will carry His Gospel of salvation to the "ends of the earth" (Mt 28:20).

St. Cyprian beautifully develops this idea of the "gathered into one" to illustrate the unity of Christ and the Church which is "gathered" to Him (see Epistle 63.13; 69.5). Also notice the plural "We give Thee thanks" in the Didache prayer which survives from this ancient prayer in the Ordinary of the Mass today and exemplifies St. Peter's characterization of the entire Church as "a holy priesthood" (1 Pt 2:5).  Be mindful today when you celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist that you are taking part in an even greater miracle than Jesus' feeding of the more than five thousand on that mountainside in the Galilee over two thousand years ago.  You have been called to the Messianic Banquet of the New and Eternal Covenant in Christ Jesus.  He feeds you, not with fish and bread, but with His very Body and Blood to sustain you on your journey to eternal salvation and to prepare you for the future Banquet of the Lamb and His Bride in the heavenly Kingdom when He returns in glory (Rev 19:5-8).

Catechism References:
Isaiah 55:1 (CCC 694, 2121); 55:3 (CCC 762)
Psalm 145:9 (CCC 295, 342)
Matthew 14:13-14 (CCC 2614); 14:13 (CCC 2614, 2633, 2815); 14:16-17 (CCC 729, 2615); 14:18 (CCC 788)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017