This week’s daily Gospel has been a walk through John 6, and taking it piece-by-piece, with an eye towards the whole, has been really interesting.
One of the arguments I recently heard against the Eucharist was that since Jesus has only one Body, His Body and Blood can’t be present in each and every particle of the Eucharist in every Host in every part of the world. The Catholic view, after all, is that each particle of the Eucharist is the entirety of His Body and Blood. You don’t just commune with part of His chin or something: every piece is all of Him. It’s certainly counter-intuitive.
If you look at John 6, it’s the Feeding of the Five Thousand Men* (John 6:1-15), the walking on water occurs that evening (John 6:16-24), and Jesus’ Eucharistic Discourse occurs on the other side of the sea (John 6:25-70). There are some strong and obvious connections between the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Eucharistic Discourse. It was to prepare the people for a talk on a divisive issue, and Jesus says that they’re only listening to Him because they’re expecting free food out of the whole thing (John 6:26; see also John 6:30-31 and John 6:34 for the people asking Him for bread). In that context, it’s interesting that one of the points of opposition Jesus meets from His Disciple Andrew in John 6:8-13 is precisely this question of the physical and material limitations:
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
So the opposition is “bread is material, and there’s no possible material way that five loaves can feed this many.” Jesus fixes the problem by blessing and breaking the bread, at which point is miraculously able to feed. This then leads to the strange conclusion of filling “twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over.”
Now the Protestant skeptic who doesn’t think that the Eucharist can be everywhere because it’s material should consider Jesus’ remedy: blessing and breaking the bread. Later today, I’ll go into what that breaking of the bread means about the Eucharist.
*John just says that there’s a “great crowd.” Matthew 14:21 says, “There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. ” He’s not saying women and children don’t count. Rather, he’s tying the meal to the family, and counting male heads of households, rather than individuals.