THIS Sunday’s gospel, taken from the Book of Matthew (Chapter 14, Verses 13-21), narrates the story on Jesus multiplying bread and fish to feed five thousand men plus an unrecorded number of women and children. This story must be so important that it also appears in the three other books of the gospel – in Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14, and Mark 6:30-44.
Hearing of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus and his apostles withdrew to a deserted place across the Sea of Galilee, where he was followed by a large crowd who traveled from their respective towns on foot.
Moved with pity, Jesus preached to the people about the kingdom of God and cured the sick among them. When it was evening already, the disciples advised Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves. But Jesus replied, “There is no need for them to go away. Give them some food yourselves.”
The disciples knew that this was a great logistical challenge. Philip, one of Jesus’ apostles, figured out that it will take more than a half-year’s wages to feed this multitude with just a bite of bread. Yet as they told their Master, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” These meager provisions, according to John’s version of the gospel, came from a young boy, who must have shared them to the apostles.
Jesus then said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered that the people sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish on his hands, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn distributed them to the crowd. Not only did everyone eat and was satisfied; there were even fragments left over which when gathered, filled twelve wicker baskets.
What are some reflections which can be drawn from this beautiful story?
First, that Jesus cares for his people. After preaching to the crowd and healing the sick, he knew that the people were hungry. He did not drive them away empty-handed, but he himself fed them. The responsorial psalm declares, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” Similarly, in the First Reading we see, “All who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come buy grain and eat. Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost. Why spend money for what is not bread; you wages for what does not satisfy? Only listen to me and you shall eat well; you shall delight in rich fare” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Jesus cares for us as whole persons. He meets not only our spiritual needs, but also our physical needs. Conversely, he is concerned not only with the nourishment of our bodies, but more importantly, with the sustenance of our souls. As the antiphon reminds us, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4b).
Second reflection is that nothing is too little when lifted to the hands of God. The five loaves and two fish were very insignificant compared to the magnitude of the need to feed five thousand men plus women and children. Yet the young boy who owned them was too selfless as to share them with the apostles and consequently, with everyone else. Jesus honored the kindness of this young boy. God could have just easily produced bread and fish, or any other food for that matter, by simply uttering a word. After all, wasn’t he the Creator of everything seen and unseen in the Genesis story? But we see here that in this case, he chose to work with human cooperation. He did not need it in the first place, but he willed that he train us in his character and power.
Third reflection is that our God is a generous God. He gave food to the crowd not only up to what they needed to fill their hunger; there were twelve baskets-full of excess. Many times, God loves to shower his children with superabundant grace. “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change” (James 1:17).
Fourth and last reflection is that this story on the multiplication of bread, in addition to the Old Testament account on the raining of manna (Exodus 16), foreshadowed God’s giving of himself as the True Bread from Heaven in the Eucharist, as initiated in the Last Supper. With his own body broken for the salvation of everyone who believes, and with his own blood shed to wash away the sins of every repentant sinner, Jesus continues to feed his pilgrim Church on earth, until that day when he shall share with all believers the great banquet in heaven.