17th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
July 25, 2021
The miracle of the multiplication of the bread is one of the few stories recorded by the four evangelists. The event must be impressively memorable and powerful for the disciples and other witnesses. Why did the four evangelists opt to include this story in their gospels?
There are many possible motives, but one apparent reason is that the story of the multiplication of the bread serves as a sign to the greater miracle, the Eucharist. If we try to observe the story’s details, we will discover some striking similarities with the Last Supper of the Lord, the first Eucharist. One particular action is that Jesus ordered them to recline. To ask a classroom of 40 students to take their seats is a tough job, and here Jesus asked five thousand men not only to sit but to recline! Yet, John the evangelist did not tell us that the people turned to be chaotic, and all seemed to be fine and smooth.
This gesture of reclining seems to be ordinary, yet in ancient times, to recline is to be able to rest, and in fact, it is the gesture of a freeman. Slave was expected to serve when their masters eat, and they would spend most of their time doing labor. Thus, they did not have much time to enjoy their meals, lest to recline. By asking the people to recline, Jesus was giving them the rest they truly desired.
The gesture of reclining while enjoying the food was a typical ancient way to have a banquet. The host and the guests would share a low table that they may recline, consume the meals, share stories, and enjoy the entertainment. Jesus Himself often was invited to attend such banquets [see Luk 7:36]. By asking the people to recline and offer them food, Jesus acted as the host of a great feast, and the people were His honored guests.
Lastly, when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the people, our catholic instinct should immediately tingle. These are the actions in the Eucharist. Yet, St. John added another essential detail: reclining. The gesture of reclining is the same gesture the disciples had in the Last Supper [See John 13:12]. In a sense, the people who reclined and received the bread from Jesus were sharing in the first the Eucharist of Jesus.
Every time we participate in the Eucharist, indeed, we are expected not to recline on the altar! Yet, we receive even greater gifts than five thousand people from the gospel. Not only do we have a break from our works and chores on Sunday, but we enjoy the proper rest in God. We are reminded that our purpose is not simply here on earth but in God. Not only do we attend a religious service, but we become part of the divine banquet of God’s children. We do not slave to our works, to this world, to the power of darkness, but men and women freed by God’s grace. Not only do we partake in physical food, but the bread of life, Jesus Christ Himself. Indeed, the Eucharist is heaven on earth.
Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP