Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
The miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish is one of the few miracles recorded in all four gospels. But in John’s account, which is the one we heard today, the chapter doesn’t conclude with the miracle. The scene actually continues, but it turns a dark corner, eventually arriving at a place where scripture records the following: After this, many of his disciples fell away, and no longer followed him.
Now, what could bring us from a place of awe and wonder—of the five thousand men with the their families all experiencing the same miracle—to a place of apostasy, where Christ’s own disciples (not crowds, but disciples) stop following him?
We get a hint to the answer to that question in the last verse of our gospel passage today: Since Jesus knew they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
They were going to make him king… What could be so bad about that?
There is a difference between doing God’s will, and doing our will in God’s Name. God's plan is that Jesus be crowned King (and even in our day, we have a solemnity called, "Christ the King"), but God's ways aren't our ways, and his vision of kingship radically differs from that of worldly man. That difference is what separates heaven and hell. That difference is veiled behind a seductive temptation.
You may recall that at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, he was tempted by the devil after forty days in the desert. The devil offered Jesus a kind of kingship. He promised Jesus the wealth of the world, and all power and authority, if only Jesus would worship him.
You may remember that time when that demonic mentality possessed Simon Peter when he tried to dissuade Jesus from his Passion. This was after our Lord gave Simon the name, "Peter," and then foretold his Passion. When Peter tried to turn Jesus away from his course, Our Lord rebuked him, saying: “Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking as God does, but as man.”
God desires that Christ receive all glory, honor, and power. Deceitfully, the evil one promises the same. But the difference is the Cross. The difference is always the Cross.
The demonic mind always seeks to separate Christ from his Cross. That happened in the desert with the devil’s temptation. That happened when Satan spoke through Peter’s lips. That even happened while Jesus was on the Cross, as the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees mocked Jesus, saying: “Let him come down now from the Cross, and we will believe in him.”
That mindset is in our gospel today, as the crowds—and many disciples—want to make Jesus king for worldly satisfaction. They want the glory of a worldly kingdom, not the glory of a crucified savior. And Jesus calls them out on it: “Amen, amen, I say to you. You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
This begins the bread of life discourse, when Jesus will tell everyone that he is the true bread from heaven, and that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. This will be too difficult a teaching for many; and many of Christ’s own disciples will abandon him.
In our day, like the Jews who wanted rightly to honor Jesus, but not for the right reason; we too can rightly want to honor Jesus—and participate in the life of faith—but not necessarily for the right reason.
As Jesus fed the five thousand, Jesus can miraculously bless nations and peoples in every age. Haven’t we already seen how Christ and his Church have transformed art and architecture, education and philosophy, society and politics, and every aspect of culture throughout history? It can be tempting to want to ride the coattails of the Church's prosperity.
But what happens when that prosperity is gone? What happens when Christendom is gone? What happens when we’re not so blessed, and things aren’t going our way? What happens when only the Cross remains? What happens when ridicule, mockery, betrayal, and persecution, are the only trappings left in this world, for believing in Jesus Christ? What happens then?
Our gospel passage invites us to examine our motivations with regard to our faith and our relationship with Jesus. Why do we come to Church? Why do we pray? Why do we bring others to Mass with us? Why do we raise our children Catholic? Why do we try to do good and avoid evil? Why do we obey the commandments?
Depending on where we each are in our personal journey of faith, especially for those not experiencing worldly prosperity, many might not necessarily be able to articulate the reason. Maybe it's one of spiritual intuition. But that’s not a bad place to start. After all, it was where the Twelve began anew.
After many disciples had left, Jesus said to the Twelve, “Will you also leave me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
At the time, the Twelve did not understand what Jesus was teaching them about the Eucharist. As with the rest of the crowd, Jesus' teaching about his flesh and blood must have confused them. Nevertheless, they believed that Jesus is the one whom they were meant for, and He for them. And so, they clung to their relationship with him.
Likewise, as we continue to enter an era in history where the illusory gospel of prosperity fades away, revealing only the gospel of a Crucified Savior, we’re called also to cling to that same relationship.
If it is for that relationship—and only for that relationship—that you are here now, you will not be disappointed. Our Lord Jesus Christ is already with us in this moment; for where two or three are gathered in his Name, he is there in their midst. And we will truly see him in the flesh today upon this altar of sacrifice—because he will be with us in the Eucharist. May God bless you.