Very Bread, Good Shepherd, Tend Us: The Body and Blood of Christ

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (C)

Many years ago, in another city, I participated in my parish’s bread baking ministry. This was a group of people who took turns making the large loaves of communion bread that the priest elevated during the consecration.

Many bakers, me included, consider bread-making to be a spiritual practice, but the ritual behind preparing this unleavened, soon-to-be-consecrated bread elevated the task of following a simple recipe of a few ingredients to the level of contributing an essential element to the liturgy.

I baked my bread in silence. No phone. No music. No distractions. I lit a candle and said a prayer of gratitude for the work I was about to begin. As I measured and sifted the flour and salt together, I reminded myself that this was the way bread had been made for thousands of years. Slowly adding the water, oil, and honey, I worked the dough with my fingers until I could gather and turn it out on a kneading board. I handled the dough gently, almost caressingly, and divided it into six pieces, one for each of the weekend’s liturgies. I flattened each piece to the exact thickness and diameter specified by the recipe and carefully scored the surface with a knife before baking so the celebrant could break it quickly into pieces for distribution with communion.

The homemade, whole wheat, unleavened bread was chewy and delicious, and no doubt those who received it in its consecrated form savored it, but the pieces from one loaf could not feed the entire assembly, so it was supplemented with enough communion hosts to serve everyone.

Confession time. If you haven’t already picked up on it, I experienced a bit of self-congratulatory, church lady pride from my bread-baking experience. And during the consecration as I watched the bread that I made with my own hands, in my own kitchen, being elevated, well, sigh, wasn’t I so blessed? What beautiful and delicious bread I baked, and how perfectly round it was, how perfectly scored and easily torn it was! How I loved to see the secret smiles on my young daughters’ faces as they chewed my bread instead of the standard issue wafer.

Egads! This is horrifying. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or hang my head in shame. Everything about this confession is appalling. Not only did my pride obstruct my reception of the Eucharist, it interfered with my knowledge of God’s will for me.

Don’t misunderstand. Bread baking ministries are wonderful. My fault is that I became attached to the act of baking bread, and to the bread itself because I lost sight of what I was doing, and why. What began as way to serve God through the liturgy became the means of my own self-elevation. I’m sure we can all think of other ministries, liturgical or not, which run the same risk. We must always be careful.

I’ve been researching the topic of detachment and am discovering how even virtuous acts born of good and holy intentions (such as baking the bread used for the Eucharist) can, if we are not attentive, become material attachments that push their way between us and God. Thomas Merton, in his classic book, New Seeds of Contemplation, says, “Attachment to spiritual things is therefore just as much an attachment as inordinate love of anything else.”[1]

Merton names the very things people do in order to draw closer to God. In our efforts to detach from worldly things like power and money and prestige for example, Merton says we cling instead to the means of being virtuous and holy. Prayer, fasting, devotional practices, penance, holy books, religious orthodoxy and the like often usurp the priority of seeking and doing God’s will.

We risk being blinded by our zeal, thinking God is pleased by our endless busyness. Merton says even spiritual goals like seeking a sense of God’s presence are attachments that get in the way of God’s pure communion with us.

Merton’s words recall the story of the rich young man from the gospel of Mark 10:17-31, who approached Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. A sincere man who loved God, who did the right things and was obedient to the laws and observed the rituals of his faith, he turned away when he learned the cost of heavenly treasure was his belongings, his identity and social status—everything he had. As the disappointed man walked away Jesus said “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Can you picture the faces of the disciples, who literally gave up everything to follow Jesus, when they heard these words? We also wonder “Then who can be saved?”

The ability to detach from our will to listen for God’s will is a herculean but essential practice if the words “thy will be done” are to have any meaning. It seems that our well-intentioned activities run the risk of becoming a kind of spiritual filibuster intended to hold off God’s will. It’s like we are saying, “Thanks for everything, but we’ll take it from here. Aren’t we wonderfully made?”

According to Merton, what God asks of us is to be quiet and allow the “secret work” that has begun in our souls to take place. Quiet means learning to silence our minds and pay attention. It also means quelling our need to take charge, to win, to be number one.

Which begs the question: What are we supposed to do?

I think part of the answer can be found in Luke’s account of the feeding of the multitudes, which we will hear proclaimed this weekend as we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

The story picks up after the newly commissioned apostles returned from their mission of “proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing.” [LK 9:2]. Jesus tried to retreat with them to a remote city where they could regroup but his presence attracted an enormous and hungry crowd. (Remember, in the days of Jesus hunger was a given; everyone was always hungry.)

We know the details of this story: Jesus welcomed the crowd and told them about the kingdom of God. The disciples saw both the lateness of the day and the crowd’s rising hunger and asked Jesus to dismiss the crowds so everyone could find food,  but Jesus’ challenged the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. All they had was five loaves of bread and two fish. So Jesus organized the crowd into manageable groups of fifty, blessed the spare meal and set it before them. Everyone ate, and there were twelve baskets of leftovers.

If we are attentive we will remember that in the kingdom of God there is no hunger or thirst. Yes, this was a miracle. Through the alleviation of their hunger, the crowd was given a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Still, some of us have to demythologize biblical miracles in order to settle on a logical human explanation. We miss the point when we insist there is no way that Jesus could have multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people. We are positive it had to have been the people themselves who out of embarrassment or forgotten generosity, or love, opened their sacks and shared their food with one another.

It was Jesus who fed and who continues to feed the crowds, but that’s not to say the crowd also didn’t share their food with one another. It was love that fed the multitudes.

If anything this affirms our faith in the goodness of humankind and restores hope for the world. The theory that humans are inherently selfish is a lie. People want to give of themselves and help others in meaningful ways, such as sharing our food with those who have none. But the point Merton makes about attachments is important. How many of our works are motivated by the pure intention of drawing closer to God? Do we seek the face of God in the hungry? The poor? The refugees? How about our enemies? Does it matter? It does if we want to share the Love that feeds the world.

Very bread, good shepherd, tend us,
Jesu, of your love befriend us,
You refresh us, you defend us,
Your eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see. [2]

Today’s readings can be found here. 

_______________________________

[1] Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. Reprint. New York, New Directions, 2007.  205.

[2] Excerpt from the Lauda Sion sequence which is sung or proclaimed at the liturgies celebrating the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Life is Eucharist and Eucharist is life!

christ-dancing_heimo-christian-haikala2

A guest post written by Fr. Joel Fortier. 

When we connect to each other in love we connect into a larger reality we call God…Christ, the ground of our being, our common ground, our God connection in the Spirit. It is The divine Presence, the mystery of Christ in us, and the Presence in which we live and move and have our being, which is within and without us! Through Christ, in the Spirit, all glory and honor be to you almighty God, Father/Mother of all life.

That is the direction of all life, assimilation into Christ, into God.

When we live in love we live in God, and God in us. It is the human connection; in fact, it is what it means to be human, to share Divine life, to live in the Spirit. Spirit and matter are one. It just keeps changing forms. Change is inevitable. It happens whether we like it or not.

So we must learn to live with it, to unite ourselves to the will and purpose of God, which is always to live in love, to die to our smaller selves in order to rise and discover our true, larger self that we are part of, in God.

When I live in love I live in God, and God in me.

The fulfillment of our lives is in coming to recognize, discover, and embrace our true and larger self. It is a matter of ultimately coming to God; of welcoming God, allowing ourselves to be caught up in the breath and love of God for us and all creation; to go with God in the Spirit, to be in the flow and river of divine love and mercy which is always creating, guiding, and directing the universe in a symphony of unending dying and rising, of coming to new forms of living and loving, always moving out of ourselves into a larger reality.

What a wonderful adventure life is! The call of discipleship, our vocation in life, is to go with it! To follow Christ, to go where he has gone, into the heart of God!

It is the loves of my life that have helped me realize this. I am eternally grateful to God for the people and opportunities God has brought into my life. They are the means and sacraments to me of Christ’s presence in my life; the joy of my life.

Life and Eucharist is a matter of sharing, it is in the sharing, in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharistic, and the bread of our lives, that we come to know, experience, and recognize Christ…and so give thanks. “Were not our hearts glowing within us!”

Life is a banquet!

Life is lived always in relationship or it isn’t lived at all! Life is intensely personal, but it is never private. It is always a shared experience, a sharing first of what God has given us, God’s own life. God has loved us into being! And we reflect the image of God in which we were created when we share, when we live in love.

Life is Eucharist and Eucharist is Life! Life is an adventure into the heart of God! Our love has infinite divine dimensions!

Let us go with Christ into the Heart of God. Through Christ, in the Spirit, all glory and honor be to you Almighty God! Amen.

___________________________________

Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

I’m not the entertainment

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

For the past five weeks[1] the Sunday readings from the Lectionary have taken a detour from the regularly scheduled gospel of Mark to focus on Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse found in the gospel of John, chapter 6. When I read scripture, it is always with an ear toward discipleship, so for me this “interruption” is almost as if Jesus is saying, “Look, you can’t just tag along forever and marvel over my great works, I’m not the entertainment. It’s time to put some skin in the game.” Well, alright, then.

With the miraculous feeding of the 5000 Jesus tested the faith of his disciples [JN 6:1-15]. A short time later, Jesus identified himself as the true bread from heaven and presented the crowd with the requirements of discipleship:

  • First, anyone wishing to do the work of God must believe that Jesus was sent by God [JN 6:24-35];
  • Second, not only must Jesus’ identity and mission be accepted, it must be internalized like a hearty meal, [JN 6:41-51];
  • Third, along with this consumption of Jesus’ identity and mission, those who accepted Jesus must then open themselves to a complete change of consciousness and radical lifestyle which carries risks but ultimately leads to eternal life with God [JN 6:51-58].

Finally, after witnessing the departure of many in the crowd, Jesus turned his attention to his disciples. Did they understand? Did they have what it takes to fulfill the requirement of discipleship? Would they stay or would they go? [JN 6:60-69]

Jesus’ teaching made the crowds very uncomfortable. It ran counter to their understanding of the divide between human and divine life. He blended physical life with spiritual life in a way that derailed traditional concepts of a transcendent, omnipotent God. Not only did Jesus claim intimate knowledge of God’s nearness and the existence of eternal life with God, Jesus said that HE was the way to God and eternal life.

The concept of an intimate God is as challenging today as it was then; it flies in the face of classical theology which stresses our abject unworthiness. Yes, we are sinful, but are we really unworthy? Would the invitation have been offered to us in the first place if we were unworthy of it? Entering into Christ’s consciousness opens us up to this truth. Jesus shows us what human perfection looks like, and invites us to strive to be like him and share in his glory. In doing so, we are transformed.

Some of the disciples found Jesus’ words hard to swallow and returned to their ordinary life. [JN 6:66] Those who remained with him understood, or at least the text tells us they did. “Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” [JN 6:68-69]. We know that is not the end of the story for Peter; we know his faith was not yet as rock solid as it would one day be. But the transformation of Peter and the others had already begun.

No doubt, this is hard stuff. We prefer our Jesus patiently awaiting us, perhaps standing in a fragrant meadow with his hands extended towards ours. I know I do. The truth is the cost of discipleship is dear. Jesus is pretty firm on the requirements (see above). Discipleship means loving God and neighbor in a radical way. It requires us to be servants, to behave a certain way, to detach from the idea of self-sufficiency, to make sacrifices, to do the hard stuff and be prepared to do it again and again until like the crowd of 5000, everyone is fed. Discipleship entails accompanying Jesus to the cross, and taking up the counter-cultural task of changing the world one step at a time. And we do this not because we are stained, we do it because we are beloved and worthy of the task.

Look around you. Can you see all the good disciples quietly at work in the world?

Today’s readings can be found here.

________________________________________________

[1] 17-21st Sundays of Ordinary Time, Year B. Although John 6 is read in weekday liturgies the second week of Easter, their proclamation on Sundays occurs just once in the three-year lectionary cycle. It is important to pay particular attention and discern how the message applies to your faith life.

Born around the table

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink”. [John 6:53-55]

Eww… Forgive me, Jesus, but that is kind of disturbing. “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” [John 6:52] No matter how Jesus’ words are re-framed or explained in the context of God’s gift of manna from heaven to the Israelites, and God’s gift of Jesus as the bread from heaven to the world, many of us are still left with the feeling we don’t get it. Unlike simple (and unsatisfactory) examples of 4-leaf clovers, pretzels, and trefoils employed by some to explain the Trinitarian doctrine of three persons in one God, this third part of Jesus’ bread of life discourse defies imagery and abstract language.

Still, in order for us to advance in our understanding we really need to stop being so literal and focus on what Jesus is saying about how eating the bread of life will transform us.

Jesus utilized the food analogy for spiritual purposes. Recall that analogies compare one thing to another in a way that is “like” but “not like” the reality being described. Analogies are never intended to be literal. Phew! Thank you, Jesus! The key here is to identify the traits of the one thing that hold true (food and drink satisfy physical hunger) in the context of the teaching (unlike manna from heaven which temporarily relieved physical hunger, Jesus is the bread from heaven who satisfies spiritual hunger for all of eternity).

Food and drink have the power to transform us from within. To that end, two foodie films came to mind as I prepared this reflection. One is King Corn, a documentary exposing America’s corn-based food supply. The film is described as “a humorous and touching documentary about two best friends who decide to move to Iowa to grow an acre of corn after finding out through laboratory hair analysis that their bodies are primarily made out of corn.” If you doubt this is true, please search for and watch this movie, and get back to me. http://www.kingcorn.net/the-film/synopsis/.

What we put in our bodies, be it food, drink, or outside influences including opinions, art or media really, truly does impact the health of our mind, body and soul [Eph 5:15-20].

The second film, and one I have seen many times, is Babette’s Feast, a culinary drama set in 19th century Denmark in which a renowned Parisian chef takes refuge as a housekeeper/cook for two aging spinsters. Much like Wisdom dressing her meat and mixing her wine [Prv 9:1-6], Babette spreads a table for the townsfolk. Each time I see this film, with its emphasis on the preparation of a final meal and the eventual transformation of the characters from a kind of death to life, I note deeper themes of Eucharist: service, sacrifice, forgiveness and reconciliation. You will want to experience some authentic French cuisine with friends after watching this film. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092603/.

Babette's feast

© 1987 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

It has been said that the church was born around the table. It has also been mentioned that the prominence of meal sharing in Jesus’ ministry points to the humorous conclusion that Jesus ate his way through the gospels.[1] But as the bread of life discourse reveals, the real meal is Jesus’ ongoing and unconditional sharing of self.

Jesus’ flesh and blood represent his life; Jesus’ life discloses his  consciousness of being one with God. His flesh and blood refer to his earthly ministry and willing sacrifice, his union with God, and what he continues to do through his church, the body of the living Christ [1 Cor 12:27].

This consciousness of Jesus, this oneness with God, and mission to reunite God and creation is the “this” which Jesus at the last supper refers to when he says “do this.” It is the meal, the mission, the union: all of it. The whole loaf. The doctrine of real presence is more readily consumed with this understanding. Christ is truly present.

When we receive Eucharist, we give our fiat, we say “yes, please” to taking Jesus’ consciousness and all that it entails into our bodies. In this way, we become the host. Imagine the transformation of Christ’s church today if every person stepping forward to take communion was attentive to this point.

We have many ways to be aware of God: in nature, in human relationships, in worship, and in prayer, just to name a few. But Eucharist is different. It is the one act in which we physically eat what we profess to believe.

The communal act of receiving Eucharist runs the risk of becoming a meaningless ritual, a symbolic reenactment that tells us the mass is almost over. But when it is properly understood as taking in Christ’s consciousness it is impossible to remain unchanged, and even more impossible to deny the requirements of discipleship.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

_______________________________________

[1] Particularly in Luke’s gospel. Robert J. Karris, O.F.M.’s book Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel is a good read on the topic. (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2006)

Traffic Jam Spirituality

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

The other day I was tailed and then passed by a heavy-duty pickup truck with a message. It told me from its bumper, in large bold caps, to TRUST JESUS! I have never been a fan of bumper stickers. Not only do they (in my opinion) junk up a car’s appearance, certain bumper stickers foist religious (or not) beliefs, push moral and political stances, and crow children’s accomplishments in the faces of disinterested strangers in a way that is, well, obnoxious.

Bumper stickers that tell others how to act are particularly boorish in traffic. They speak to the popular notion that whatever we think must be proclaimed publicly. Perhaps we are headed for a dialogue-free society in which everyone just blurts out their opinion using the nearest technology and then disappears in a plume of exhaust.

Maybe I make too much of it.

In all fairness, I knew nothing about the driver of the TRUST JESUS! truck. He was just like every other person on the Turnpike who simply wanted to get from one point to another. But he happened to be in front of me for several miles and having this command in my face started to bother me. What exactly did this driver mean by “TRUST JESUS!” and who did he think he was, anyways?

Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” [John 6:51]

Although their bellies were filled, the crowd did not see God’s hand in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. And while they recognized Jesus’ teaching authority and wondrous deeds, they were blind to his true relationship with the Father. They found his claim, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” [JN 6:41b] to be preposterous. After all, everyone knew Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, so how could he claim to have come down from heaven? Their opposition mounted and yet the crowd remained in his presence, grumbling and murmuring  within earshot of Jesus. These people, his opponents, were limited by their partial view of life, and of God. They trusted God, not Jesus.

It has been said that if you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God made visible in the world. However, as theologian John Shea says, “One who is not in touch with the inner light of God cannot see it in the outside world.”* For this reason, Jesus’ enemies were not capable of seeing Jesus for who he was, and they did not see God’s doing in Jesus’ mighty works. Neither could their hunger be sated, because they refused to ingest Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus is talking about transformation. He offers his unconditional gift of self as food for the world to all of humanity. It is an invitation to the table. “And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” [JN 6:51b]. This goes back to why the TRUST JESUS! bumper sticker bothered me. Of course we should trust Jesus. But there’s more. Discipleship requires active and ongoing participation in Jesus earthly mission, here and now. Jesus did not say trust the bread, Jesus said eat the bread, all of it. Eat the entire loaf, take it in completely and be transformed.

EAT THE BREAD. Now there’s a bumper sticker I would not mind following.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

______________________
*John Shea. 2005. The Spiritual Wisdom of Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: Eating with the Bridegroom Year B. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. Page 204.

It’s a miracle!

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

In August, 2013 a news story circulated about a mysterious roadside “angel” who appeared at the scene of a head-on collision where the victim was trapped inside her crushed vehicle. The man, described as wearing priestly garb, prayed with and anointed the 19-year-old woman, provided calming reassurances to the rescue workers that all would be well, and then disappeared from the scene without a trace.

This story took off and gained international attention. The Missouri miracle, as it was called, was intriguing. Who was this man who emerged from the corn fields with anointing oils? How was it possible for anyone to come and go when the road was blocked in both directions? And why did none of the photos taken at the scene include this person? News reports and the internet buzzed with speculation. Even Diane Sawyer wanted to know.

Who doesn’t love the idea of a miracle? Miracles seem to point to a higher power’s participation in worldly events. They cause doubters to pause. Believers want to attribute these baffling life-saving events to divine intervention, and why not? But as well-known Jesuit priest and author, Fr. James Martin, said in a comment to the Huffington Post “Most likely the priest will be identified, and people will be able to thank him.” Spoilsport. Still, Fr. Martin’s point is that human acts of bravery and extreme kindness happen all the time. Oftentimes they point to God’s engagement in human history. But this kind of pragmatic response just pops the balloon of hope held out by many who hunger for a “real” miracle.

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes [John 6:1-15] was a real miracle. It was an opportunity for Jesus to teach the disciples about spiritual abundance, and the crowd enjoyed the miraculous result. The feeding of the 5,000 revealed that God does great things with just the smallest offering; the tiniest spark of faith was more than enough to work with. And after everyone had their fill, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of fragments.

Lesson learned.

But the next day the crowd was hungry again, and they went in search of Jesus and more bread. The crowd did not see the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as a miraculous sign of God’s care; they saw it as dinner.

Jesus knew this and in one of his most difficult teachings challenged the crowd to understand his identity as one sent to fill their lives, not their bellies.

“Don’t work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life” [John 6:27a]. The double play on the word work referred both to the kind of work that provides enough to eat and the kind of work expressed through obedience to the Law given by Moses. The Jews in the crowd who heard the latter grew uneasy. They asked, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” and Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” [John 6:28-29].

Oh boy. Understand how outrageous this statement was to the hearers: “We have Moses, are you implying you are greater than Moses? If so, what can you do to prove it? Moses gave us manna to eat!”

Spiritual hunger: that universal human longing for the moreness of life. The myriad religious expression in human history acknowledges there is not a single civilization which has not attempted to satisfy the desire to know the higher power. But, Jesus says “Don’t work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life.” In other words, Jesus is the bread of life whose presence makes God known in the world. A life nourished by and lived in imitation of Jesus is a life lived toward union with God.

And sometimes that union is expressed in miraculous events.

Many people hoped the Missouri miracle man really was an angelic apparition. Turns out Fr. Martin was right and Rev. Patrick Dowling, a priest of the diocese of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, MO, stepped forward a few days after the accident. In an interview with ABC News, Fr. Dowling said, “he was only doing the basic job of a priest and most of the credit goes to God.” He went on to add, “I have no doubt the Most High answered their prayers and I was part of his answer, but only part.”

Was the Missouri miracle a miracle? Absolutely. As Fr. Dowling stated, “the credit goes to God.”

Today’s readings can be found here.

________________________

Still hungry? Gospel texts from John’s “Bread of Life” discourse [John 6] are read from the 17-21st weeks of Ordinary Time (B) [Lectionary for Mass and the Revised Common Lectionary], and will be explored with a view towards discipleship here on The Good Disciple blog..

There is enough, there is always enough.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Did he, or didn’t he?

Did Jesus actually organize a meal to feed a crowd of 5,000 from just five barley loaves and two fish?

Yes.

Did Jesus use a child’s contribution as a way to encourage those in the crowd who had some food to share it with those who had none?

Yes.

Some people are offended by the latter explanation. They claim it undermines the intent of the gospel writer. They claim it weakens Jesus by dismissing the possibility that he actually created a bottomless bread basket and endless fish platter from the five loaves and two fish. Others (including me) disagree. Jesus did create a bottomless bread basket and endless fish platter. He did it by changing the hearts of those who said “I’ve got mine, go get your own” to “I have a little, but I can share it with you.” This was as much a miracle then as it is today.

Like the five barley loaves and two fish the child offered to help feed the multitudes, the humblest offering has the capacity to transform society. Jesus knew this; everyone ate, everyone had their fill, and there were leftovers. There is enough, there is always enough.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

___________________________________

(This gospel [John 6:1-15] begins the “Bread of Life” discourse which will be the topic for the next five weeks.)