Our guide pointed to a soft, green hillside next to the Lake of Galilee. “Jesus preached to five thousand people right over there,” she said. We turned from gazing at the lake and saw the sloping contour of a wide grassy hill. Other than a few struggling and scraggly trees here and there, it was a meadow.
The sun was intense that day and the air was hot and dry as we pilgrim priests stood there reflecting on the beatitudes that Jesus spoke some two thousand years ago. It struck me that because of the heat, Jesus could not have been preaching in the middle of the day. It must have been late afternoon or evening, which explains somewhat Jesus’ worry about the crowd who had little to eat and drink as they listened and followed Him.
Scripture says that Jesus felt distressed because his listeners were like sheep without a shepherd, so He had them recline on that gently sloping hill that eased into the rocky beach of Galilee with a view of the impressive mountains across the lake. Like a shepherd, He guides them to restful waters and green pastures.
He knows they are hungry, so He first nourishes their souls with the beatitudes and then feeds the crowd a miraculous meal of fish and bread. He tells them that He would someday, somehow give them his flesh and blood to eat. “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood or you will not have life in you …your ancestors ate manna in the desert and have died… if you eat the bread that I give you will live forever.”
Transubstantiation is a beautiful way to describe what must still remain, though, an awesome mystery. During the Eucharist just after the consecration of the bread and wine, the priest announces to the faithful that (this is) “the Mystery of Faith.” We all respond with faith: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
I think of these things as I look at the grassy hill today where Jesus preached the gospel and fed the hungry flock two thousand years ago. That miracle of mercy has never ceased and continues in our day as the Beatitudes and the Eucharist are reborn daily in the hearts of those who believe in Him.