by Father Mike Stubbs
Where large crowds gather, food vendors frequently follow. They may be selling funnel cakes, hamburgers, corn dogs — anything to satisfy the crowd’s desires. No one needs to go hungry.
So, why is it that the apostles find it so difficult for themselves to eat? Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 6:30-34, tells us: “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.”
Why would large numbers of people interfere with the ability of the apostles to eat? If they were cramped up in a small room, maybe, but that does not appear to be the case here.
This dilemma reflects the situation reported in Mk 3:20, which we heard recently in the Gospel reading for June 10.
There, the presence of the crowd also keeps the apostles from eating: “Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat.” But notice, they apparently are in a house, in Jesus’ home. The difficulty sounds more understandable.
In any case, the presence of a large crowd and the inability to eat looks forward to the event which next Sunday’s Gospel reading will describe: the multiplication of the loaves and the fish.
We will hear the account of that event from John’s Gospel. Because of its great importance, accounts of that event appear in all four Gospels.
At any rate, Sunday’s Gospel reading sets the scene for that miracle by gathering the crowd. People hear about the apostles’ plan to travel to a deserted place. Consequently, “they hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.”
The crowd that has assembled is hungry — not for physical food, but rather for the word of God, for Jesus’ teachings. That is the first need that Jesus attends to:
“When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
Eventually though, because the crowd is not made up of disembodied spirits, but rather flesh-and-blood people, they will also hunger for physical food.
However, there are no food trucks or vendors. Instead, Jesus will oblige them with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. In satisfying that physical need, though, Jesus will also address their spiritual hungers with his teaching on himself as the bread of life.
The Gospel readings for the next few Sundays, all from John’s Gospel, will look at that in great depth.