For a nice, home-grown Jersey boy, I have never been a huge fan of tomatoes. I grew up with people who would eat tomatoes like most people eat apples, but I couldn’t do it. I love ketchup and tomato sauce, but I always order my salads and subs sans tomatoes. Several years ago now, tomato growers started to experience something strange: demand for their tomatoes dropped like a rock, their sales and profits plummeted. Anyone know why? The Atkins diet. Ketchup sales went flat because people stopped eating so many French Fries; you don’t need spaghetti sauce if you’re not eating spaghetti. Of course, it is bread, especially white bread, that took the biggest Atkins hit; lots of people stopped eating bread. One comedian reportedly said something like “No bread? How nice it is to know that the whole human race has been eating the wrong thing since only the dawn of time!”
Still, it does seem odd to treat bread, of all things, like a pariah. Bread, the breaking of bread…and the art of making bread are all staples of civilization and a hallmark of many important Bible passages. Bread has long been seen as God’s gift. Etymologically, the word “companion” derives from the Latin cum panis, which means “with bread.” A companion is one with whom you share bread.”1
Jesus had a lot of companions on the day we just heard about; unexpected companions, companions that found themselves out in the hills, devoid of dinner plans. “Jesus, and his disciples, in good hospitality, first and foremost, try to formulate a plan on how to feed the masses. The disciples, particularly Philip, are clear there is absolutely, positively, no conceivable way that all those people will be fed. You’d think that by this point in time, those poor apostles would have figured it out. Since when does Jesus do things in the way anyone expects? … With five loaves of bread and two fish, we are told that Jesus fed 5000 people that afternoon, with plenty left over.”2
We are companions of Jesus, by virtue of our baptisms and in the receiving of the Blessed Sacrament, the Bread of Life. We share, then, all of us, in the miracles of Christ. We all share, in the mere fact of following Jesus, we share in the awesome stuff He did. Though it became fashionable in academic circles to deny the miracles of Christ, to say that He didn’t really make water into wine or feed thousands of people by multiplying food or heal people with a word, those miracles, those and the thousands more He most certainly performed, they are historical; the feeding of the five-thousand happened just the same as, say, the Berlin Wall falling, happened. And just the same as any huge historical event happening, we share in it, we are affected by it; the world changed after the Berlin Wall came down, and the world most certainly changed after the feeding of the five-thousand.
It must have been quite a day in the hills of Galilee when Jesus fed all those people with a lunch fit only for a lad, and the day wasn’t done yet; “…later that very same day, the grass still bent over from where all those people had been, the disciples are out in a boat, and Jesus shows up unexpectedly. John tells us they were three or four miles out, huddled together in the middle of a storm, the dead of night all around them, when Jesus appears walking on the water calming first the storm, then the disciples. What links these two stories together is that Jesus does something totally unexpected, and it changes the lives of those around him forever. Philip, nor Andrew, nor the little boy, or anyone else standing there, ever dreamed what was going to happen when Jesus got a hold of that bread and those fish. Not one of the disciples expected Jesus to stroll up beside their boat, after they had rowed out some 4 miles, and greet them in the middle of a storm. Jesus is constantly doing things that no one expects, but the result, time and again, are stories told about a Messiah who shows up in unexpected places, in unexpected ways, and we have story after story to tell about ways we witness him in the world.”3
My friend Mother Holly Davis posted a picture this week on Facebook, which I thought was pretty funny. It’s a picture of Jesus easing up to the counter at McDonald’s, and He says “5000 filet o’ fish meals, please.” Blasphemy if taken seriously, but of course it’s not, they didn’t even have tartar sauce in Roman Palestine. But it must have been fun that day on that hill in Galilee; there must have been lots of laughter as the fish and bread just kept coming and coming, five-thousand people becoming not just neighbors but companions, companions of each other and companions of Jesus. No one could have expected that, and since then the world has never been the same. So the question becomes, as we prepare to share the Bread that will become the very Body of our Lord, what do we expect will happen to us? In what unexpected ways will Jesus show up in our lives, and how will we let the world know that we are companions of Jesus?
1Scott Hoezee, This Week
2Sharon Hiers, Day 1