“Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk.”
Throughout the scriptures food and drink symbolise God’s abundant graciousness. The prophet Isaiah, in particular, describes God’s salvation as a banquet of rich food and fine wine. The psalmist sings of the Lord who gives his creatures food in due time, who grants the desires of all who live.
The imagery of food and drink challenges us to reach beyond our basic instinct for food that satisfies the stomach alone. How are we to satisfy our deeper longings for forgiveness, for wholeness, for love and hope? The prophet underlined the futility of money spent on food that can never satisfy. In so doing he made the spirit’s hunger an invitation to the Lord. “Listen to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Listen, and your soul shall live.”
Such words enable us to review the inevitable dissatisfactions that are a part of every life. There is a longing, deep within us, that cannot be completely satisfied by the many good things that come our way. Such a longing can only be satisfied as it leads us into communion with the Father. For this we were created.
The feeding of the 5,000 is rich in symbolism. Its setting is significant. The large crowd had followed Jesus to a lonely place, an echo of the tribes of Israel following Moses into the wilderness.
Throughout the wilderness Moses had sustained God’s people with Manna, the Bread that had come down from heaven. Now Jesus fed the multitude with the five loaves and two fish, thereby showing himself to be the fulfilment of the promises made to Moses. The Messianic banquet, promised by the prophet Isaiah, had its fulfilment in Jesus. “They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining, 12 baskets full.” Such abundance was promised only for the coming Messiah and the salvation that he would bring.
The actions of Jesus, raising his eyes to heaven and blessing the loaves and fish, anticipated the institution of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper Jesus would raise his eyes to heaven, would bless the bread and give it to his disciples as his Body, his life given for them. No less than the 5,000, we approach the Eucharist conscious of our hunger and poverty. We cannot provide for ourselves the food that will last. Each and every Communion is both a confession of our hunger and a proclamation of Christ as the fulfilment of our longing.
We can approach the Eucharist with the confident hope expressed by St Paul in his letter to the Romans. Here, Paul acknowledged that life brings its own trials and anxieties. He refused to let them come between himself and the love that had been revealed in Christ Jesus.
“For I am certain of this: nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.”
In the Eucharist we are fed in a manner yet more wonderful than that of the multitude in the wilderness. Through the Eucharist we are brought into communion with Christ Jesus. Through that same Eucharist we are given Paul’s assurance that nothing, neither life nor death, nothing that exists, nothing yet to come, can come between us and Christ Jesus our Lord.