My Dear People,
First, Congratulations to the three candidates who came into full communion with the Catholic Church last week.
The Gospel often tells us that Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee in fishing boats. This was a faster means of reaching the opposite shore than hiking around the lake on foot. It was also a convenient way for Jesus to pull away from the crowds in order to be by himself. Of course, if word of his next destination became known, as in this episode, a crowd could quickly gather to meet him when he arrived. Still, Jesus showed no signs of being irked by this. Instead his heart was moved with pity as he peered out across the vast human sea of hunger and heartache that pressed in around him. However fatigued, Jesus made himself available to the sick and suffering.
Eventually evening began to fall and the disciples advised sending the people away to buy food. To his thoughtful recommendation the Lord responded: there is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves. All they had on hand were a few loaves and fish. This would barely add up to a meal for Jesus and his disciples! Yet before them stood a multitude of several thousand strong.
For Jesus however, this was more than enough to work with. So, he made the people sit down and, like the host of a Jewish feast, he pronounced the blessing, then broke the loaves, then gave them to the disciples to pass out to the people. Here, with considerable restraint, the evangelist reports a miracle that supersedes every law of physics known to us. The bread and the fish just kept on coming. No one knew how it was happening. It was certain only that the generosity of Jesus was streaming forth in superabundance.
Spectacular though it was, the multiplication of the loaves was not an unprecedented event. Similar miracles involving food appear in the Old Testament. One thinks of the manna that rained down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4-21). So, too, Elijah, when he stayed with a poor widow of Zarephath, caused her nearly empty jar of meal and her depleted cruse of oil to supply the household with food throughout an extended famine. (1Kings 17:42-44). Against this background, Christ’s miracle shows that he wields a power even greater than that of the prophets of Israel, for he started with fewer loaves than Elisha and fed a vastly larger crowd!
But the significance of Jesus’ action does not end here. The multiplication of loaves not only draws our minds back to the Old Testament; it also points us forward to the institution of the Eucharist. Readers familiar with the Last Supper account are not likely to miss the connection between these events, for Matthew recounts them in similar terms. Notice that both events take place at the same time (evening) (14:15; 26:20), and those in attendance assume the same posture (reclining). Likewise, Jesus performs the same actions with the bread in both instances, and in the same sequence (took, blessed, broke, gave, 14:19; 26:26). Lastly, Jesus hands the broken loaves to the same recipients (the disciples) (14:19; 26:26). No doubt Matthew considers the multiplication of the loaves an anticipatory sign of the Eucharist to be distributed as communion to the multitudes of God’s people.
Yours in Christ,
Fr Vincent Clemente