Today in our gospel we see that Jesus and the apostles have a little economic crisis on their hands. There is a vast number of people to feed and few resources with which to feed them. In the Old Testament, Elisha the prophet faces the same dilemma. He is given twenty barley loaves and he needs to feed a hundred people. This is our world. There is a great need and there are limited resources to meet that need. Up to this time, Jesus has been dealing with the need for health care for the people. John the Evangelist tells us that this large crowd that is following Jesus were drawn to him by the signs that he had been performing on the sick. Jesus is able to heal the sick and bring about health and new life to those who were suffering from various illnesses. What can Jesus do for those who are facing other great needs in the world? Jesus can heal the sicknesses of this world but can he address the hunger for life that the great crowds of people are carrying with them? Every person in this world is suffering from some great need in life. The great crowds of people that Jesus encounters are all in need of new life. What does God the Father have to offer all those people who are hungering, yearning, and searching for something that will satisfy their hunger?
Jesus gives Philip a little exam in economics when he asks him, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (Jn 6,5) Jesus is aware of our human tendency to measure the possibilities for our future by the standards of a market economy. Do we have enough money to buy what we need for life? If not where can we get this money? If we don’t have enough money, how will we meet the overwhelming needs of the people who are hungering for life? What happens when we are faced with a shortage of commodities? When we live in a world of scarcity how do we keep people from fighting over the world’s limited resources? In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples: “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.” (Mt 26,11) In the temporal and material world, there will always be the problem of poverty. Jesus seems to be offering the gift of himself as the key to abundant life. Material poverty is a perennial challenge in the world but spiritual poverty is an even greater need that must be met. John tells us that Jesus is testing Philip because, “he himself knew what he was going to do.” (Jn 6,6) Philip responds with the logic of the world and points out that there will never be enough to meet the needs of so great a crowd of people.
The question that Jesus presented to Philip was in a sense a trick question. Economics is not going to solve this problem that Jesus has presented to Philip. Philip is correct when he says that in this market economy, in the material view of the world of scarcity, there will never be enough to meet the hunger of the world. The world cannot supply even enough for people to have a little in the world. What can be done in the face of such overwhelming need? Is there no hope? Should we give up and look out for our own needs? Does God want his people to perpetually live in poverty? This is not an economic problem, this is a God problem. God responds through the prophet Isaiah: “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! 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. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.” (Is 55,1ff)
Andrew identifies a young boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, not rich fare, obviously not enough. Jesus is on the mountain, the place of revelation and he is about to establish a new teaching, renewing an ancient covenant in the new covenant of the Eucharist. In the context of this crisis of need that faces Jesus today he performs Eucharistic actions in taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it and distributing it to the many. The Eucharist which gives us the Bread of Life teaches us that everything is a gift and grace that comes from God the Father and that it is destined for the common good of all peoples.
We cannot see the world merely as a collection of individuals who are all competing for the use of limited resources but rather the Eucharist calls us beyond that into seeing the world as a communion of brothers and sisters who share in the goods of creation and the blessings of God. We make room for a “principle of gratuitousness” and recognize the superabundance that comes to us from God’s blessings and love. Today the people in Elisha’s time and in Jesus’ are all fed and given all they need and there is even an abundance left over. Jesus is preparing his apostles for his great teaching on the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse. Stay tuned!