July 25, 2015

Christ and the Feeding of the 5,000

This Sunday's gospel story from John, the feeding of the 5,000, is the only miracle (besides the Resurrection) recounted in all four gospels. As such, its significance cannot be overstated. It portrays Jesus as the new Moses who will lead fallen humanity to salvation. When the miracle of the multiplication of loaves is told in the Gospel of John, it is related to the manna in the wilderness. The connection between Moses and Jesus, the manna and the miraculous bread is undeniable.

Given the absence of a Last Supper narrative in John’s Gospel, the feeding of the 5,000, is a kind of corporate Eucharist. Upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew privately by boat somewhere near Bethsaida. Christ’s healing ministry and preaching had made him renowned. Consequently, large crowds followed him. When Jesus landed and saw them, he was filled with compassion and healed their sick. As evening fell, the disciples came to Jesus saying, "This is a remote place, and it's getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." The disciples were thinking in human terms about the people’s hunger. Jesus’ reply, "Give them some food yourselves." must have seemed nonsensical. Consider also that the number 5,000 excludes women and children. The real total to be fed was between 10,000 – 20,000.

The disciples find a young boy with five loaves and two fish. These they give to Jesus who takes the loaves and fish, gives thanks, (In the Septuagint the Greek word for "thanks" used here is eucharistia, meaning of thanksgiving, or praise for the wondrous works of God. The word "Eucharist" is a transliteration of the Greek.) and presents them to the disciples to distribute among the people. When they had had their fill, Jesus said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.

The miracle of the multiplication of loaves is unequivocally about the Eucharist. At Mass we bring the fruits of human labors, bread and wine, in conjunction with the offering of our ordinary lives to the altar. Through the invocation of the Holy Spirit this offering is miraculously transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church Fathers on the Feeding of the Multitude
He multiplied in his hands the five loaves, just as he produces harvest out of a few grains. There was a power in the hands of Christ; and those five loaves were, as it were, seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by him who made the earth.
— Augustine 
For although the Lord had the power to supply wine to those feasting, independently of any created substance, and to fill with food those who were hungry, he did not adopt this course; but, taking the loaves which the earth had produced, and giving thanks, and on the other occasion making water wine, he satisfied those who were reclining (at table), and gave drink to those who had been invited to the marriage; showing that the God who made the earth, and commanded it to bring forth fruit, who established the waters, and brought forth the fountains, was he who in these last times bestowed upon mankind, by his Son, the blessing of food and the favor of drink: the incomprehensible [acting thus] by means of the comprehensible, and the invisible by the visible; since there is none beyond him, but he exists in the bosom of the Father.
— Irenaeus 
He called his disciples, and asked what quantity of food they had with them. But they said that they had five loaves and two fishes in a wallet. . . . He himself broke the bread in pieces, and divided the flesh of the fishes, and in his hands both of them were increased. And when he had ordered the disciples to set them before the people, 5,000 men were satisfied, and moreover 12 baskets were filled from the fragments which remained. What can be more wonderful, either in narration or in action?
— Lactantius 
The feeding of the multitudes in the desert by Christ is worthy of all admiration. But it is also profitable in another way. We can plainly see that these new miracles are in harmony with those of ancient times. They are the acts of one and the same power. He rained manna in the desert upon the Israelites. He gave them bread from heaven. "Man did eat angels’ food," according to the words of praise in the Psalms. But look! He has again abundantly supplied food to those who needed food in the desert. He brought it down, as it were, from heaven. Multiplying that small amount of food many times and feeding so large a multitude, so to speak, with nothing, is like that first miracle.
— Cyril of Alexandria
He (multiplies loaves) not only once but also a second time, in order that we should know his strength. This strength by which he feeds the multitudes when he wishes and without bread finds its source in his divinity. He does this in order to bring them to believe that he himself is the one who earlier had fed Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. And Jesus not only fed them with a few loaves of bread, but he even produced a surplus of seven baskets, so that he might be shown as incomparably surpassing Elijah, who himself also caused a multiplication of the widow’s small quantity of oil and flour.
 — Theodore of Heraclea

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