We hear some Gospel narratives so often that we stop paying attention to what a particular passage actually says.

That's especially true of Jesus' bread miracle. It's the only one included in all four Gospels: twice each in Mark and Matthew, and once in Luke and John.

Though scholars agree that all six narratives describe the same event and have something to do with the Eucharist, each evangelist uses the miracle to emphasize different dimensions of the early Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper.

Multiplying

Sunday's Gospel account of the event (Luke 9:11-17) treats a Eucharistic dimension we rarely address. (It's also the one Mark deals with in chapter 6, the first mention of this bread incident.)

Most of us, in describing the miracle, speak about Jesus' multiplying the loaves of bread and pieces of fish for the huge crowd. But, in the earliest narratives, Jesus' disciples do the actual feeding.

Listen carefully to Sunday's Gospel: "The Twelve approached Him and said, 'Dismiss the crowd so they can...find lodging and provisions, for we are in a deserted place here.'" In other words, we're facing a situation beyond our control.

Jesus' response seems ridiculous: "Give them some food yourselves!" They come back with one of Scripture's most sarcastic lines: "Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people."

But the sarcasm doesn't stop Jesus from having His followers feed the crowd: "Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing over them, broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd."

To the disciples' amazement, "they all ate and were satisfied." Unbelievably, the leftovers "filled twelve wicker baskets." Notice Jesus' role: He only instigates and blesses; His followers do the actual feeding.

Accustomed to participating at Mass in a relative passive role, some Catholics find it difficult to return to the early Christian expectation that each person helps feed the community, no matter how little he or she thinks they have to offer.

In I Corinthians 14, Paul reminds his readers, "When you assemble, one has a psalm, another an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything should be done for building up." That's quite different from what most of us experience -- or are expected to do -- during Mass.

That's why Paul, in the second reading this Sunday (I Corinthians 11:23-26), takes us back to our earliest tradition about Jesus' words and actions at the Last Supper, reminding us that those who "eat this bread and drink the cup...proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes."

Taking part

Though we're more comfortable and secure just sitting back and letting ourselves be fed, as Abraham's men are fed by Melchizedek in the first reading (Genesis 14:18-20), Jesus expects His followers to help do the feeding.

Such assistance entails a "death," that is, giving ourselves to others, even beyond our capabilities and even though we believe someone else has much more to give.

Paul believes such giving is one of the central ways we proclaim Jesus' death during the Eucharist. Jesus expects His followers to join in the feeding, instead of sitting back and watching someone else do all the work.

If we just work up enough courage to share ourselves, we'll discover the "left-overs" are more than we started with.

(6/7/07)