Gospel for Corpus Christi (23 June 2019)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces (Luke 9:11-17 – NRSV).
A similar account may be found in Matthew 14.13–21, Mark 6.30–44 and John 6.1–15.
Both Luke and Matthew depend on Mark.
Luke’s chapter 9 begins with the mission of the twelve – 9:1-6 – and ends with the beginning of the final journey to Jerusalem – 9:51-62. The major theme has been set in Luke 8:1: “he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God”. Jesus is preparing the disciples to continue his work: “Luke prefers, with his distinctive focus here on speaking about the kingdom of God and healing (Mark has a healing in Bethsaida in 8:22–26), to establish continuity with the central motif for this section (see 8:1) and to underline the continuity between Jesus’ ministry and that of the Twelve (see 9:2). Luke will concentrate the Christological focus of the pericope onto the feeding itself, and in particular onto its eucharistic connections” (J Nolland, Luke 1:1–9:20 (Vol. 35A), Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002, 441).
it: That is, the fact that when the disciples returned from their mission, “(Jesus) took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida” (9:10). And so they “followed him” to Bethsaida.
he welcomed them: This is an extraordinary moment! Jesus wans to be alone with the disciples who have just returned, yet he shows hospitality to the crowds who seek his attention. It is puzzling that Luke omits Mark’s reference at this point to the compassion of Jesus – see Mark 6:34. Though we should assume that Jesus’ hospitality contains both mercy and compassion. And perhaps Jesus’ hospitality here is a complement to the crowd’s hospitality earlier: “When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40).
“You give them something to eat”: In accord with Jesus’ desire that the disciples continue his work, he turns the responsibility back on them: “You give them something to eat”. But, in the end, it is Jesus who acts.
the kingdom of God: Luke begins referring to “the kingdom of God” in 4:43. “This is the first reference to the kingdom in the Gospel proper. In most cases Luke refers to it in this way (6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28, 29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20bis, 21; 18:16, 17, 24, 25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51). Sometimes, however, he speaks of it merely as ‘the kingdom’ (11:2; 12:31, 32; 22:29, 30; 23:42). But he never uses the ‘kingdom of heaven’, which Matthew often employs.
“The ‘kingdom’ is the prime kerygmatic announcement in the Synoptic tradition, especially in Matthew, where it appears fifty-five times, whereas it occurs in Luke only thirty-eight times, and in Mark fourteen times. John uses it five times. In earlier Pauline literature it is sometimes found, but it is scarcely the operative or dynamic element that it has become in the Synoptic kerygma. In fact, save for a few places (e.g. 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13), it is otherwise mostly used in the Pauline corpus in catalogues of vices or similar statements that reflect early Christian catechesis.
“Surprisingly, no attempt is made at this first occurrence of the expression in the Lucan Gospel to define what “the kingdom of God” is. But this is equally true of the other Synoptics. Jesus is presented as taking over an OT idea and giving a new emphasis to it in his kerygmatic preaching” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28), New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 557). News of the kingdom is the good news! The disciples will continue Jesus’ proclamation after he has gone.
taking the five loaves and the two fish etc: The series of verbs – took, blessed, broke and gave – is repeated at the Last Supper and at Emmaus. The Eucharistic overtones are unmistakable.
Today’s Gospel – Luke 9:11-17 – begins with Jesus welcoming the people. In fact, Jesus was, at that moment, trying to find some time alone with the disciples. He would therefore have been naturally inclined to resent their intrusion rather than welcome it. Yet, welcome them he does. The disciples urge Jesus to send the people away so they can get food and lodging. He simply tells his disciples to feed the crowd themselves. This is too much for the disciples. Luke then tells us that Jesus, “taking the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd”. The wording here is very much like that found in two other clearly eucharistic passages in Luke – 22:19 (the Last Supper) and 24:19 (the meal at Emmaus). Luke presents the Eucharist as an event of hospitality. Indeed, John’s Gospel carries a similar sense of hospitality when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples – see John 13:1-16.
Whilst the Greek word philoxenia (“hospitality”) is not used here by Luke, the concept is fully present. In fact, hospitality is generally a feature of life for these people and their neighbours: “The practice of receiving a guest or stranger graciously was common to many social groups throughout the period in which the OT and NT were composed” (J Koenig, “Hospitality”, D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 3), New York: Doubleday, 1992, 299). The Greek word most commonly associated with hospitality in the Christian Scriptures is “xenos which literally means foreigner, stranger or even enemy” (Ibid). We find this for example in Romans 12:13: “You should make hospitality your special care” (JB); Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (NRSV); 1 Peter 4:9: “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” (NRSV). In 1 Timothy 3:2 we are told that one of the special characteristics explicitly required of the “the bishop” (episkopon) is that he must be “hospitable” (philoxenon).
The context of hospitality – especially with its emphasis on the stranger – provides us with a helpful perspective on Eucharist. We can reasonably assume that there is more than a little of this perspective implied in the statement that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324 citing the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), #11). Pope Francis also suggests this theme of hospitality when he speaks of the Eucharist as “a life-changing communion” (Evangelii Gaudium, #138).
And so when we celebrate the Eucharist, we receive the hospitality of God. God welcomes us. We are God’s guests. This in turn invites us to be hospitable to each other – and ourselves. Yes, we are all, in some measure, strangers to each other and even strangers to ourselves. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it”.