The Fourth Sunday in lent has some interesting things going on. Not in the least the Gospel passage from John chapter 6 – which is infamous for its eucharistic teaching. Today’s passage, however, concerned the miraculous multiplication of bread. This passage, from its context. ought to be read as speaking concerning the Eucharist. The Church further emphasizes this in the way she consecrates the elements (of bread and wine) during the Sacrifice of the Mass:
1 AT that time: Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.
2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.
3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.
4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.
5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?
6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.
7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,
9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.
14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
During the Mass the consecration of the bread follows the prayer Qui pridie:
Who the next day afore he suffered took bread into his holy and reverend hands, and his eyes being lifted up to heaven unto thee, God Almighty his Father, rendering thanks unto thee, he blessed, he brake, and gave to his disciples saying: Take and eat this, ye all.
FOR THIS IS MY BODY
In the Gospel passage Jesus lifts up his eyes and as he does so he notices a multitude of people. Jesus took loaves of bread and gave thanks (to the Father) and proceeds to distribute the bread to the disciples who in their turn distribute to the people who consume it. There is so much to unpack here!
First of all it must be noticed that the Liturgy of the Church at the point of consecration reminds us of the Gospel reading of today. And as she does this she gives a clue as to how that Gospel is to be understood. The action Jesus performs and the words in which his actions are recorded in the Gospel speak beyond their surface. Beyond “their letter” and could be read as an “allegory” not unlike what St. Paul was on about in today’s Epistle!
This allegory does not entail the idea that Jesus did not undertake such an action. The literal meaning of a Scripture story is not undone or destroyed by an allegorical reading. St. Augustine of Hippo can perhaps help us understand:
The miracles wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ were verily divine works, and they stir up the mind of man to rise by a perception of what is seen by by the eye unto an apprehansion of God himself.
~ Anglican Breviary, Lesson vii for Fourth Sunday in Lent p. C253.
And he continues:
Therefore this miracle is done outwardly before us, that our souls may inwardly thereby be quickened. The same same is shewn to our eyes to furnish food for thoughts. Thus, by means of his works which are seen, we may come to feel awe toward him that cannot be seen. Perchance that we may thereby be roused up to believe, and if we attain unto belief, we shall be purified to such good purpose that we shall begin to long to see him.
~ Anglican Breviary, Lesson ix for the Fourth Sunday in Lent p. C254.
In other words the things done by our Lord and recorded in our Scriptures are signs of something beyond what they are on the surface. This is, of course, precisely what St. Augustine wrote in his Teaching Christianity concerning things and signs in Scripture. Not all things in Scripture are signs, but some sure are.
What the similarities and the immediate context (Chapter 6) of today’s Gospel tell us about what the multiplication of bread means is that we are too look at this thing as a sign of the Eucharist! This thought – I hope – leads to more questions which will lead us to meditate on this passage and to pray at Mass more attentively. Because if we do that I am certain that the Lord will indeed “stir up our minds” and a desire to be with God will be aroused in us, and that in the end we can “apprehend God himself.”
Bread (and wine) is – of course – bread. But in the Mass, during the consecration, something happen. Bread is no longer simply bread but has become the very Body of Jesus Christ. For this we must learn to read and understand by faith of which allegory is a necessary part.
Gregory Wassen +