Offering of bread and wine represents call to give deeply of ourselves

By Glen Argan

The choice of the Gospel for Sunday’s celebration of Corpus Christi – the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – is slightly perplexing. Here we celebrate Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, and the Gospel provided is that of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Look more closely, however, and you will see both a prefiguration of the Eucharist and allusions to its deeper meaning.

The First Reading tells of the bread and wine thanksgiving sacrifice of Melchizedek, who is both king and priest, at the return of Abraham. The later Eucharistic sacrifice appropriates Melchizedek’s sacrifice into the eternal sacrifice of Christ. This divinization of Melchizedek’s offering is not an interpretation devised by humans but expresses the intention of Christ himself expressed in his choice of bread and wine as the elements of the Eucharist.

The Second Reading from First Corinthians describes the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper as a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The excerpt from St. Luke’s Gospel includes a ritual similar to that of the Last Supper. Jesus asks the apostles to organize the crowd of “five thousand men” into groups of 50. Then, Jesus blesses and breaks the five loaves and two fish, giving them to the apostles to distribute to the crowd.

Still, there is more. The Gospel excerpt is just that – an excerpt. It typically helps our understanding to view these excerpts in context.

In this instance, the multiplication of the loaves and fish follow the story of Jesus commissioning the Twelve to go and heal diseases and proclaim God’s kingdom. Upon their return, Jesus takes them and heads to a private space so they can talk. However, a crowd follows. Instead of seeing the people as a nuisance and chasing them away, Jesus welcomes them, speaks to them of the kingdom and heals their sick.

Perhaps the apostles were chagrined. They were looking forward to private time with Jesus, and again they were surrounded by a crowd full of needs. They had just returned from a trip dedicated to healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom. Now they are at it again. When will all these demands cease?

So, when the apostles asked Jesus to send the crowd away, it may have indicated their desire to be rid of the noisy mob as much as their perceived inability to feed so many people.

Instead, Jesus charges them to feed the people, to be hospitable and meet their needs. When the apostles are unnerved by Jesus’ request, Jesus himself feeds the crowd.

The Eucharist is a sacred moment, but it is also an opportunity for hospitality. If hospitality is lacking then perhaps the sacredness of the moment is diminished.

The offering of loaves and fish or bread and wine – foods that sustain us – symbolizes not only Jesus’ presence, but also his call for us to be bread for others, to give not only as we will, but beyond what seems possible.

Readings for Corpus Christi Sunday, June 23, 2019
Genesis 14.18-20 | Psalm 110 | 1 Corinthians 11.23-26 | Luke 11b-17

(More articles like this are available at On the Threshold.)

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