The discourse on the Bread of Life begins with the narrative of the multiplication of bread, for multitude that had gathered to see the miracles of Jesus.
The miracles were clear signs of the power Jesus had. The people were drawn to this and taking the other gospel into consideration, we know that during these instances Jesus would have spoken the Word to them as well. The people were inspired by his Word and awed by his power. Jesus’ power is a prelude to his discourse, a discourse that would leave many irritated as they did not understand where Jesus was coming from. Many of them could not see the connection between the Word and the Bread of Life and the power that enabled all to be not just a sign of Jesus’ presence but his real presence.
Notice in the miracle of the multiplication, all that was needed was the faith of the apostles. Besides their faith, the only other thing required of them was to offer up what they had in the forms of bread and fish, and to step up in service to help to distribute the bread and fish. With these simple acts, the miracle was worked. The miracle of the distribution happened as Jesus passed the bread and the fish to his disciples and to “all who were sitting ready” (John 6: 1-15). As the disciples kept distributing the broken bread and fish, they realised that the supply was more than enough to feed everyone on site, to the point of having leftovers. We should remember this because at the Eucharist, the bread turns into the real Body of Jesus through the hands of the priest. It is not the priest who changes the bread into the Body of Jesus, but the work of the Holy Spirit through the speaking of the right words. The miracle gives a hint of what we may expect in the Eucharist. The miracle is introduced with the words, ‘It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.’ The New Passover meal is what the Eucharist celebrates. Jesus gives himself to us as the Bread of Life as he gave the bread to the crowd that had gathered before him.
If the apostles lacked the faith to carry out the action of Jesus, the miracle would not have taken place. Faith in the presence of Jesus in his Word and in the Eucharist is something that we need to ponder about and talk about for there are many who, though Catholic, do not see Jesus present in the proclamation during the Eucharist and Jesus’ true presence in the consecrated host. This lack of faith or lack of knowledge of what truly happens at the Eucharist dulls some to think of the whole celebration as a re-enactment, a sort of re-calling of a past event that we show reverence to and nothing more. This approach to the Eucharist robs us of the truth and the graces that are there for us to receive and to grow in our relationship with Jesus.
The apostles did not understand the miracle and how it could have happened. We are not called to first understand the miracle of the Eucharist but to humbly accept the mystery with faith and then ponder to understand bit by bit this truth.
It is no wonder that since we do not truly accept the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated Bread, that we do not accept one another as truly sisters and brothers in the Body of Jesus Christ.