The text for today is immediately following Jesus feeding the crowds for a second time, the Pharisees demand for a “sign” and Jesus’ refusal to give them one.
And so, the story is set in the boat. The disciples are discussing the fact that they only have one loaf of bread (v.14) and Jesus warns them (v. 15) to guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Then in v.16 which seems to flow better with v. 14, the disciples conclude that he must be thinking about their lack of bread. What just happened in chapter 6 and again in chapter 8? Obviously, the disciples missed those signs. They are focused on their comfort—their food while Jesus seems to be reflecting on his conversation with the Pharisees as he interrupts the flow of their thoughts and is then brought abruptly to the reality; the disciples didn’t get it. They didn’t make the connection between Jesus multiplying the loaves, feeding and satisfying the crowds and their “one loaf.”
Jesus then poses a series of seven questions beginning and ending with, “Do you not yet understand?” Sandwiched between are his prompts to open the disciples’ eyes to the signs by jogging their memory. They relay the details back to him exactly as it happened.
At this place in the story, don’t you feel for Jesus? Can’t you just hear the sadness and disappointment and maybe even desperation in his voice? Time is running out; will anyone get it? These verses cause me to pause and reflect on Jesus’ humanity, something I often forget to do. In a very real way, it feels as if he is already carrying his cross. So much suffering, so much love, so much energy offered up for me and for you.
Aren’t you glad the disciples’ humanity is displayed for us? I’ve often felt that if they had understood and got everything right, most of us mere humans might never take the Scriptures to read because the bar is set so high. It might feel unachievable, like some of the lives of the Saints that are hard to live up to…well, at least I think so. So happily, for us, the disciples set a low bar here and I think we tend to believe that we would get the sign in this circumstance. I’m not so sure about that. Scripture has so much to teach us—humanity fails over and over again to see the signs of God’s abundance and miracles. I know I do. How many times has my focus been on what I lack instead of what the Lord is doing in my life?
Gratefully, we press on knowing that Jesus is the “one loaf of bread” which feeds us all with abundant left-overs! Jew or Gentile, slave or free. All are invited to the Eucharistic feast, where Jesus and only Jesus, can open our eyes and nourish our souls.
May our Lenten journey open our eyes to see God’s love-in-action within us and all around us. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.