L I HAVE PITY ON THIS CROWD...FOR THEY HAVE NOTHING TO EAT. Providing food and drink for the people He had liberated from Egypt was one of the major acts of divine Providence at the time of the Exodus. The lack of provisions had led the people to faint on the way, to murmur against Moses who had led them into the desert, and then to end by rebelling. God revealed to Moses that such complaining and rebelliousness against the one He had appointed to lead those He had called was directed in reality against Himself. He responded, at any rate in the immediate situation, not with destruction but by providing a miraculous source of water and quails from the winds. Eventually, however, all those who had rebelled paid for their lack of faith and constancy by failing to enter the promised land. All of them were to die in the desert after decades of wandering and living in an unsettled state.
This historical background was well known to the Jews of Jesus' time. As was the fact that during this prolonged desert sojourn God saw to it that His people were supplied adequately by another miraculous source- manna which fell, as it were, from the heavens. A memorial of this special sign of God's care was preserved in the Holy of Holies where a golden urn filled with manna was deposited. An expectation grew up and was prevalent in the days of Jesus that when the messiah came he would have a divinely given gift that enabled him to feed the people of God. Jesus, in fact, as St. John's Gospel records his words, relates his multiplication of the loaves to the manna in the desert. But, he tells the people who asked him for a further sign: "It was not Moses who gave you manna from heaven; rather, it was my Father who gave you bread from heaven that is the true bread." And he goes on to add: "The bread of God is the one who descends from heaven and gives life to the world." (John 6: 33)
There is another detail in John's Gospel associated with this miracle, one that St. Mark omits to report on. This feeding in the wilderness took place at the time the Passover Feast of the Jews was drawing near. (John 6: 4) This year the liturgy has us read St. Mark's account of this striking miracle of the multiplication of the loaves precisely as we are about the begin the Great Week and we prepare ourselves to celebrate the Passover of Jesus who enacted the Paschal feast of the Jews in his own person, thus giving it the fullness of significance intended by God from the beginning. St. Mark depicts this action of Jesus as the fruit of his tender concern for those who follow him. I HAVE PITY ON THIS CROWD...FOR THEY HAVE NOTHING TO EAT, Jesus explained. Hearing these words of Jesus as we are about to enter upon Passion Week evokes the thought that it is not only the physical hunger of the crowd that Jesus pities as he decides to feed them by the multiplication of the loaves. That was the occasion of this miraculous act. As St. John's reminds us, our Lord is concerned above all for the spiritual good of the people to whom he preaches. Moreover, he is aware of his mission to open the way to the true promised land of the Kingdom of the Father. His pity is such that he not only provides food for his followers, but he ends by yielding himself up to death in order to obtain the healing of their souls, and ours as well.
This sacrifice of himself in fulfillment of the Father's plan of salvation and in view of our redemption is what we commemorate at this Eucharist. Our awareness of the pity and love that takes the form of self-offering is sharper these days as we are about to re-enact the mysteries of our Lord's passion, death and resurrection during the coming days. Let us enter more deeply into the depths of our heart with faith and dedicate our self anew to his service and to his person as we join with him at this altar this evening and throughout this coming Great Week. May our lives be ever more conformed to his teaching and example as we go forth from this assembly, united with him in a holy communion that makes us his now and for all eternity.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger</P>
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