The goal is to live forever, not live for now.
The goal is that we restrain our passions and our appetites, that we hold in check but we think matters most, instead of feeding our passions—our anger and lusts—and letting them get the best of us.
The goal is that we find solace in the body of Christ—not simply in the Eucharist as an individual act, but in the church itself—rather than thinking that we will find rest and refreshment by working things out on our own.
The goal is that the love of Christ constrains us, that it restrains who we are, rather than us trying to restrain who others are.
The goal is that we fear nothing except losing our way, and that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, rather than dictating how others should live.
The goal is that we love of Christ and all those whom we come in contact with, no matter how disagreeable they are, rather than loving our own loves and loving our own selves.
The goal is that we prefer the Lord’s Supper to any of our suppers.
These are the goals Jesus is inviting us to embrace when He feeds the 5000. He invites to embrace His gospel way of life, and the food that He gives, and the love that He supplies. Jesus invites us to embrace His reckless outreach to all persons, without forcing Himself upon them. Jesus invites us to align our will with His will, knowing that His love will transform us, taking us from where we are now into His heavenly kingdom.
Yet this is the goal that is missed by many in the crowd. They chased Jesus up the mountain, because they were looking for a Jesus who would give them what their hearts desired, rather than embracing what God wanted to give them. They were looking for a Jesus they could use, rather than a Jesus they could receive from. They were looking for a Jesus who would feed their bodies, rather than the Jesus who would satisfy, refresh, and satiate their souls.
And so, like the peasants in Germany in 16th century led by Florian Geyer, the mob chases Jesus up the mountain. And this is not a good thing. Because they are led by their passions, fueled by their bellies, controlled by their desire to control. This is not a good thing, because they want to force Jesus to be the Jesus they think He ought to be, rather than letting Jesus give the Life and Love that He truly is.
The Life and the Love that Jesus is, is summed up in these words from our holy father Cyril of Alexandria:
“Christ is truly long-suffering and full of mercy… For he does not reproach the small-mindedness of the unbelievers in any way….” Neither does He belittle believers when doubts and fears drive them to despair. Instead, time and again Our Lord patiently and lovingly comes to us in our sin so that He might free us from our self-made bondage. And time and again He both shows us the way of true life, and then generously gives from Himself—that is, from His flesh—all that we need to attain His life.
That is what we see at work in today’s Gospel. It is more than a story of generosity, or a demonstration of compassion. What we hear is that Our Lord feeds five thousand. But what we see is His desire to embrace them all—no matter who they claim to be—so that all might feed at His mystical supper and always prefer His bounty. Yet He must begin first with five barley loaves, and two fishes.
The point of this miracle—the reason He feeds them—is to teach us that during our fast, Our Lord feeds us with the bread of heaven. The multitude had not been left alone; they had not been starved. And neither are we. “Christ is truly long-suffering and full of mercy.” And so He gently, yet persistently; lovingly, yet pointedly; firmly, yet patiently turns our appetites away from the foods which mold, away from the hatred and anger that seethes, away from the need to make others fit our pattern—and instead, toward the fruit which comes from His all-availing sacrifice. He kindly directs our flesh and our mind so that it prefers and desires not the things that are upon the earth, but the things that are above.
For Our Lord knows that while the bellies growl, the spirit grows; while the stomach moans, life in God increases; and while we are deprived of what the flesh desires, the soul is abundantly nourished and sated by the Spirit.
One may say that Our Lord performs this miracle so that we might regain our focus. One may say that Our Lord feeds the five thousand so that we remember that our life consists not in the things we accumulate nor in the toys we have, but in the life He is and gives. One may say that Our Lord takes five barley loaves and two fishes so that we might prefer His Supper to our suppers; so that we might see that the bread we eat exists only because He is the bread of life; and so that we might truly believe that we are not truly satisfied or well fed until we have feasted at His holy table.
Here’s what Our Lord Jesus says—His own explanation for this miracle:
My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
I am that bread of life … which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
Living forever rather than just living now—that is the goal. That we may attain this goal, and grow stronger in the bread Our Lord is, and desire nothing more than desiring Him, let us approach His holy altar with a true heart and so partake of the Lord in His sacrifice of mercy; to whom with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship.