Spiritual Reflection – Loaves & Fish
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. (Matt. 14:19b–20 NRSV)
The story of the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’ is one of the most well known stories in the Bible. It is the only miracle performed by Jesus that is mentioned in all four of the gospels. There was obviously something about this particular miracle story, that each of the four gospel writers thought was significant enough for them to include it in their respective writings.
In the version from the Gospel of Matthew (14:13–21), Jesus goes on his own, by boat, to a deserted place by the Sea of Galilee, but he is followed there, on foot, by a large crowd who have travelled from the towns in the surrounding region. It is evening when the disciples come to Jesus asking him to send the crowds away to go and buy food for themselves. Jesus responds by telling the disciples to feed the crowd. They in turn tell Jesus that all they have is five loaves of bread and two fish, which is hardly sufficient to feed the crowd of five thousand men, plus women and children as well, who have followed Jesus there.
You can almost sense the frustration in Jesus’ voice as he tells the disciples to bring him the bread and fish. Looking up to heaven, Jesus first blesses, and then breaks the loaves, and gives both the loaves and the fish to the disciples to feed to the people. The disciples do so, and Matthew tells us that everyone eats their fill, after which the remains of the food is collected, which total twelve baskets full. Through the miracle that Jesus performed, God has provided for the crowd, and then some! There is an “abundance” of food; so much so that there is probably enough to feed everyone for a second time!
Like any passage from the Bible, there is more than one message or theological point that the author is trying to make in this story. Several commentators suggest the story is giving us a foretaste of the ‘messianic banquet’ – the great feast that will take place at the end of the current age when the dead are resurrected and all will feast with God in the new age. Certainly the abundance of food in this miracle story is in keeping with the tradition of the day in first-century Palestine where a host would always ensure that there would be food leftover rather than not having enough to go around.
This was a feature of other ancient cultures as well which can still be found in our own time today. I myself have, on a number of occasions, been the beneficiary of Chinese and Greek lunches and dinners where the amount of food supplied had to be seen to be believed! No one ever went home from those occasions empty handed or unsatisfied. There was an “abundance” of food, just as there was in the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’.
For me, the theme of “abundance” is the main message of this gospel story. It is all about the “abundance” of God’s love; the abundance of what God provides for us.
How might this story speak to us about the “abundance” of God’s love for us? What has been your own experience of how God has provided for you in your own lives? As you reflect on this, what feeling (or feelings) are evoked for you?