During the months of upheaval following the killing of Michael Brown by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, protesters described their standoff with the authorities by chanting, "This is what democracy looks like!" Clergy and religious leaders added, "This is what theology looks like," as they marched or held street-side sit-downs.
Had such chants been common on the hillsides and roads of Palestine at the time of Jesus, today's Gospel reading might well have included shouts of "This is what God's kingdom looks like."
|Solemnity of the Most Holy
Body and Blood of Christ
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus reported in all four Gospels, so it must have made a deep impression on those who later recounted their memories of what happened. Theologically, the feeding became a sign of what Jesus shared at the Last Supper the night before he was arrested, tortured and executed. The meal was the sacrament -- an outward, visible sign of the hidden reality -- of his gift of himself to proclaim the coming of the realm of God.
Someone once told me that the fullest presence of the kingdom of God is revealed in the gift of self. We enter the miracle of the multiplication when we receive Jesus' gift of self in the Eucharist and choose to be transformed into that same gift for others. We become the visible presence of the realm of God in the world.
On the other hand, many churchgoers do not see the act of receiving Communion as having anything to do with how we live our lives. Paul encountered the same detached attitude among some members of the community in Corinth. They saw themselves as being separate and more important than others. They excused themselves from sharing with others. It did not sit well with Paul.
Paul writes to the Corinthians to insist that the Eucharist must never distinguish between rich and poor, noble and peasant, aristocrat and servant, either at the Lord's table or apart from this sacred moment. Spiritual writer Oblate Fr. Ron Rolheiser often cites the example of Dorothy Day, who was first attracted to the church when she saw that the rich and the poor knelt side by side at Mass. Everyone was equal at the Eucharist.
To say that Eucharist calls us to do justice is not just an idea or a matter of political correctness. At the miracle of the multiplication, Jesus told his disciples to carry out the work of distributing the bread and fish.
They actively shared in Jesus' concern for the physical well-being of the hungry crowds. Luke says that when Jesus saw all the people following him, he was aware of their hunger and anxiety. Then Jesus did something about it.
The Eucharist is always more than a private devotion. It is a communal act of remembering and worshiping that tells us to go forth and live in the world what we celebrate inside church. God's love trumps social class, economic levels and religious status. God reserves a special place for the poor, and the community that shares Eucharist must work to change the conditions that cause poverty.
The central sign of the Eucharist -- the breaking of the bread -- commemorates Jesus' death. He shared our brokenness, but by his resurrection restores life and heals our brokenness.
The self-sacrifice of Jesus is what makes the realm of God present and effective in the here and now. If we follow Jesus, we model his self-gift for the sake of others. This is not the salvation that buys back God's lost favor, but the simple result of aligning ourselves with Jesus' mission to live God's will in a world that resists change. It cost Jesus his life.
Just as Jesus asked the Twelve to distribute the bread and fish, he asks us to distribute ourselves as well as the goods of the Earth so that all may be fed, housed, clothed and rescued from chaos into peace, in order to realign ourselves to God.
It will cost us everything. Our willingness to do this, to allow this to happen to us, is part of our response to God's covenant with us.
On Holy Thursday, we celebrated the institution of the Eucharist in relation to the Passover of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. Today's feast focuses more on Eucharist as an ongoing rite in the church. We repeat the ancient gestures and words of the covenant to make present the hidden reality of Christ's redemptive presence among us who gather in faith.
[Angie O'Gorman is a freelance writer and human rights worker living in St. Louis, where she works at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. She has done human rights work in Honduras, Guatemala, the West Bank and the United States.]