I read a news story within the last month or so that the church at Tabgha, which Fr. Jim refers to in his homily, was burned with significant damage. The mosaics were not damaged but the building, from the pictures I saw on the net, was pretty much destroyed. I visited this church when I traveled to the Holy Land in 1993 and again in 1995. It was a beautiful place and the mosaics are stunning. The news story was not specific as to who set it afire, but it was arson. Many Christian sites in the Holy Land have been targeted by very radical, fundamentalist Jewish groups who want to drive all Christian presence from the Holy Land. My experiences of most of the Jewish people when I visited those two times were that they were very good people, hard-working and trying to do their best in the midst of so many different tensions. Aren’t we all…Reyanna
•2 Kings 4:42-44 • Ephesians 4:1-6 • John 6:1-15•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I try to reach out to new folks all the time and would like to invite everyone I know to my home for dinner. However there are not enough days or hours to invite everyone. If you have shared a meal at my table, you may remember the unique dinner plates I use. I purchased them in the Holy Land. There is a replica of a mosaic on each plate. I refer to that as a little background to introduce what I want to emphasize in this homily about today’s text from the gospel of John.
Because the gospel of Mark is relatively short, those who planned the liturgical cycles inserted passages from John’s gospel to fill our the liturgical year. So today our gospel is the first of five texts from chapter six of the gospel of John.
Tabgha is a pilgrim site on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Tradition claims it as the site where the marvelous sharing of the loaves and fish occurred. In the 3rd century, Byzantine Christians built a church on that site. That church no longer exists but a lovely mosaic from that church was preserved and remains in the floor of a more recently built church.
That mosaic depicts a basket with four loaves of bread and two fish. Not five loaves but four!! That offers insight into how the 3rd century Byzantine church understood Eucharist.
What do you suppose their mosaic tells us? Why a basket with only four loaves, not five? For the time being, I leave that question for you to ponder.
John’s account of the Last Supper makes no mention of Jesus’ words over the bread and the wine. His emphasis in describing the night before Jesus was murdered is the washing of the feet. However John, as the three Synoptic gospels, also has an account of the marvelous sharing.
John’s version is followed by his description of Jesus walking on water, which those who composed the lectionary omitted. Together these two stories serve as an introduction to John’s discourse in which he develops his theology of Eucharist. As we shall hear in that discourse over the next four Sundays, John repeatedly presents Jesus to us as the Bread of Life.
You know the story of today’s gospel well. There was a great crowd and plenty of food left over. Some commentators insist on hearing this story literally. It is not a description of a literal event that actually occurred in real time. It is a parable about the Eucharist.
Now let us again turn our attention to that 3rd century mosaic. It offers insight into how the early church understood the story of the Marvelous Sharing of the Loaves and the fish. The message of that mosaic is extremely personal and important.
Why did they portray four loaves, not five? Because you are the fifth loaf! They tell us “if you eat and drink of Eucharist, then you, because you are the Living Body of Christ, are to be broken, your life given and shared for the sake of others.”
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the theology of the Mass was skewed. It had become a ticket for getting family or friends out of Purgatory. The language and manner in which the Mass was celebrated turned the People of God into spectators. We were obliged to “attend” Sunday Mass and failure to do so was considered a moral sin. The Council began the process of restoring and regaining a more historical and traditional Eucharistic theology and liturgy.
Today, like those 3rd century Byzantine Christians, the language and manner in which our Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated draws us into our own deepest truth. We are the Living Body of Christ in the 21st century. “We are his face to the world, his hands in service, his prophetic voice on behalf of the needy and his merciful heart to one another.” Isn’t that a wonderful insight? We are the fifth loaf!!