The miraculous feeding of the multitude
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
14Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick.
v15That evening his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.” v16″They don’t have to leave,” answered Jesus. “You yourselves give them something to eat!” v17″All we have here are five loaves and two fish,” they replied. v18″Then bring them here to me,” Jesus said. v19He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. v20Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over. v21The number of men who ate was about five thousand, not counting the women and children. (Matthew 14:14-21)
We have read and heard many sermons preaching about Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the more than five thousand people. It was one of the greatest miracles performed by Christ. It is so significant that it is the only passage of the actions of Christ that is recorded in all four of the gospels. The importance of this event was given more importance with the evangelists giving specific dates and places. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes miraculous event took place beside the sea of Galilee before the major feast of the Passover of the Jews. By tradition the place is identified as Tabgha today. It is an area situated on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The place beside the sea (or lake) is of rolling hills with gradual slope which practically can accommodate more than five thousand people without social distancing. I was given the opportunity to visit the area in the last quarter of 1996.
Jesus and the Twelve crossed the lake in a boat, but those on shore watched and followed perhaps walking the shoreline. They went around, hurriedly and arrived after the disciples. Crowds, lot of people, surging, clinging people- all were seeking Jesus, the Teacher. The last things needed by the Master and the weary disciples was a crowd. If you are in their shoes, it is humanly inevitable that you will be upset, perhaps downright angry.
But Jesus had compassion with the crowd: ‘his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick’ (v.14). For they were like sheep without a shepherd. His compassion was translated into action when he asked that the people be fed. He did it with the miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fishes feeding to the full the multitude with more baskets-full of leftovers.
The crowd followed him in an isolated place. They are in search for something, Jesus could feel their hunger, he could feed them with food, he could feed them with the Word of God that could satisfy their deepest hunger.
Jesus feeds the crowd. In this miraculous action, Jesus reveals another dimension of his ministry. His ministry is also directed to doing away with physical hunger in order to give way for the spiritual need. This is the social aspect of the gospel. I remember and incident that took place in Africa its people dying of hunger because of famine several decades ago. A bishop was persuasively and emotionally preaching about the good news of the kingdom of God during Sunday Mass in his cathedral when a member of the congregation rose and in trembling voice told the bishop, “Sir, the people cannot hear, the grumbling of their stomachs is stronger.” Christ’s mission, our mission is also on ministering to the physical needs of our brothers and sisters. We could do this by following the example of the boy in the gospel (John 6:9): by giving our two fish and five loaves of bread, that is, sharing what we have to others.
The story is more than Jesus and the crowd. This is God and the world. This is the Creator and humanity. What God has created looks lost. Alone. Directionless. Aimless. They (humanity) looked like they did not know who they were or where they were going. When the Shepherd is there – the sheep have a direction, a center, a focus. And relating to the present reality of the life-exterminating pandemic, the Shepherd gives hope.
Two important truths stand side-by-side if we are to find relevant connection in this story. We, humanity, are lost because of worldliness, of sinfulness. God’s heart is broken by our obstinate lost-ness. It is painful to admit this self-seeking direction. We are capable, intelligent, productive people, but we tend to center our lives on pettiness. For many, work is the beginning and ending of life. Family worries dominate others. Popularity and acceptance are worshipped by some. Getting ahead, making money or more money than others, the relentless pursuit of leisure – these are but a few signs of lost-ness when our lives revolves around anything less than the Lord. They do not lead to life; they rob us of life.
On the other hand, God looks out on the masses of humanity and sees that we are not anchored on anything that will sustain us. We drift, float, get blown about by everything – that is the lost-ness of our age. It can be good news to admit this aimless condition – that we are lost. More often on Sundays we speak liturgically of our forlorn condition when we make our confessions, ‘Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves….” As we confess our transgressions we are accepting those moments in life when that truth dawn upon us with such crushing reality that we will be able to say, “Lord, I am lost, please find me!”
As we recall the story of the miraculous multiplication of fish and loaves, the feeding of more than five thousand people, we can learn so many truths about God that includes the following significance of the miracle.1) It points to Jesus as the Bread of Life, one who provides for both body and soul. 2) It is proof of the Lord’s power to perform miracles. 3) It is an example of Jesus’ compassion for needy people. 4) It teaches that the little we have can be made into much if put it into the Lord’s hands and blessed.
More often than not, we think that giving our lives is like putting our one thousand pesos in the offering basket, saying, “Here’s my life, Lord. I am giving it all to you.” But the truth of the matter is that God sends us to the bank and tells us to have it broken down into smaller bills. And then we go through life giving away twenty pesos here, fifty pesos there, one hundred pesos in another… and so on. Instead of watching Netflix at home, we spend some time calling a friend who is depressed or needs words of encouragement. Instead of enjoying our newly-brewed coffee and reading the weekly magazine, we get dressed and go to church (as the IATF health protocol allows). Instead of playing games on the computer, we listen to a friend tell us about his or her problems, even though we’re tired and have problems of our own to deal with.
There are more that we can do which may be simple yet like the insignificant fish and loaves in our story can contribute to the furtherance or betterment of life in our immediate community.
These are the moments in which the grace of God can work through us to help another human being, to feed the hunger of the heart and spirit. They may not be spectacular miracles, but these are the things we can do to bring meaning and significance to our lives.
Let us pray.
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because we cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.**