a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"
They were convinced by him, and when the had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink? (R./)
There is one thing I ask of the Lord;
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
all the days of my life,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
to behold his temple. (R./)
I am sure I shall see the Lord's goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord! (R./)
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months" wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When a wave of popular opinion wanted to appoint Jesus as king, he went off to the mountain by himself. If our church is right in calling Christ the King of the Universe, we may wonder why he reacted so promptly and negatively when he was offered the kingship? What the enthusiastic crowds wanted from Jesus was not the kind of service he had come into this world to offer. They hoped to have his miraculous powers at their disposal to promote their national and personal welfare. Most likely they were less interested in his religious and social ideals than in seeing various miracles akin to that of the loaves and fishes. But he had intended this sharing of food to teach them a particular lesson. In one sense, indeed, Jesus was born to be king, but not in the populist way that they wanted.
The background to the miracle was a hungry crowd out in the countryside, with little or no food between them. Faced by the people’s obvious need, his disciples had different responses. Philip the pragmatist calculated that, based on the number of people and the amount of money they had, no solution was possible. Andrew knew that someone in the crowd had a small amount of food – five loaves and two fish – but he dismissed this as an insignificant resource in the circumstances.
Two other responses in the story are noteworthy. First, that of the boy who was willing to hand over the little food he had brought. He showed a most generous instinct by giving what he could, modest though it was. Then there is the action of Jesus himself, who took the food that was offered and, giving thanks to God, somehow fed the large crowd. If we give generously from what we have, the Lord works good through us.
The reading from Acts mentions several false messianic claimants who had misled popular opinion in the previous years. At a meeting of the Council, Gamaliel proposed a sensible way to resolve the apostles’ claim about Jesus. If this claim is as false as the others, it must fail; but if it is inspired by God, it should not be opposed. Even so, the apostles were not fully absolved, for the Sanhedrin had them flogged before setting them free. Still unafraid, once they were released, they continued preaching, being willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake.
In the end we must trust in Providence. If what we are doing is God’s work, it is worth doing and will ultimately succeed. No worthy project is wasted energy. As we consider how individuals have survived tests of endurance, and how Christianity has survived over the centuries, it shows that all this is part of God’s plan. Other Christian churches too deserve more respect than our Catholic church often gives them. The story of the loaves and fishes can be a real spur to ecumenism, urging our leaders to hurry forward towards inter-communion, to follow Our Lord’s express wish that we all be as one.