a. By setting an example of sharing which moved the selfish people to open up and also share their food?
b. By a miracle which supernaturally multiplied the loaves and fish?
Introduction The Feeding of the 5,000 is a significant miracle recorded in all four gospels.
You are a lucky Christian if you have not heard answer “a” from the pulpit. Liberals, seeking to down play all miracles of Jesus, see it as a sharing of lunches - a symbol of community love and of Jesus moving a mass of selfish people to share the food they had hidden. Sacramentalists see it as a precursor of the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper).
This account also evokes images of the wilderness wanderings, where God feed his people with manna from heaven. (Exodus 16) In this sense, the multiplication of the loaves proclaims Jesus as the "new Moses" and therefore authenticates his messianic credentials and his inauguration of the messianic banquet of plenty. This miracle of the feeding of 5000 should have been a sign to the people that the messiah had come.
In Matthew 14:15 we are told it is late afternoon and the people are hungry. The disciples point out to Jesus that it is time to let them go home or to go to the nearby villages for food and lodgings. Jesus tells his disciples that the people don't need to go home, but rather that disciples should prepare to feed them. The disciples cannot see how they can do that since they have only one "plowman's" lunch. (Barley bread and pickled fish is a staple for the poor).
Jesus tells the disciples "You give them something to eat". Recall these are the same disciples who have witnessed other miracles including the water turned to wine at Cana. They can feed the crowd if they look to Jesus. The crowd is very large. Counting adult males only, there are 5,000, so the total could be around 15,000. When Jesus multiplies the loaves and two fish, there is food in abundance. Twelve baskets of bread and fish remain after everyone has feasted. This again shows a Eucharistic vision of plenty.
Some, in suggesting answer “a” believe the 5000 must have had extra food stashed away in their tunics, and that the miracle was that Jesus moved the people to share their food. This rationalizing away a miracle of multiplication also overlooks that fact that the multiplication of loaves and fishes occurred more than once in Christ’s ministry.
The second occurrence: The Gospel of Mark, Ch.6 describes the feeding of the 5000. However in chapter 8, we are told of another event where a multitude of people have been following Jesus for 3 days and are hungry and again are in a deserted place.
How likely is it that these people would have brought along provisions for 3 days and then were only moved to share at the end of day three? (Think about it. If you went with 5000 others to hear the Pope speak at a huge stadium, you may have packed food for the day. But if the Spirit moved everyone to stay for 2 more days, everyone would be out of food including the vendors.)
The people listening to Jesus have been captivated by His words and after 3 days have run out of food and are hungry, yet they thirst to hear the words of Jesus. These followers probably did not intend to stay with Jesus for 3 days.
We are further told that Jesus is moved with compassion for the people, and voices concern that they may collapse on the way home if he sends them away hungry. Jesus directly expresses “they have nothing to eat”. Was Jesus confused not knowing about their hidden food? This time the disciples have seven loaves and a few fish. With this meager amount, Jesus feed 4000 and there are seven baskets of food left over.
In the gospel of John, chapter 6 begins with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, and then progresses into a moving discourse on the Eucharist. For John, feeding on Christ gives life. The miracle of the multiplication is a precursor of the Eucharist where Christ’s followers eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord.
Jesus promised to remain with his followers until the end of time. Catholics share in this banquet of plenty when we partake in the miracle at each Mass where Jesus becomes truly present in the Eucharist. This miracle today, where Jesus becomes actually present in the Eucharist is denied by millions. Humanly, it is impossible to understand how it could be possible for Jesus to present himself body, blood, soul and divinity in the consecrated Eucharist and how His blood becomes real in the consecrated wine. It was a hard saying 2000 years ago is a hard saying of the Church today. By the time you read John 6:57 Jesus has repeated 4 times that if one is to have eternal life, they must eat his body and drink his blood.
If you answered ‘b” and believe Jesus had the power to actually multiply a few loaves of bread and fish into a banquet for thousands of people, you probably also believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist at every Mass.
The basis for this error. In the 1950’s a Scottish scholar, William Barclay, wrote a commentary on the scriptures. Many of our current priests and religious were exposed to Barclay in the seminary. In his commentary, he presents the possibility of selfish people having extra hidden food and being moved to share.
Barclay claims this “interpretation” is held “by some”. So there you have the “rest of the story”, neatly packages for the lazy preacher who wants to sound clever, and is willing to deny a supernatural miracle by Jesus, and would rather preach a gospel of modernism.
By Knights of Columbus Lecturer
– Greg Watkins July 6, 2004