Except perhaps the raising of Lazarus, no miracle Jesus worked was more ‘public’ than this and no event had greater repercussions on his ministry. Its importance was such that the ‘multiplication of the loaves’ is narrated six times in the Gospels, twice as a duplicate narrative. Each Gospel writer brings his own view of the story, adding or subtracting details according to his theological perspective. Mark records the story of the multiplication twice, and there are minor differences in each narration. Jesus is portrayed as the ‘shepherd’ who feeds his flock, which is hungry, scattered and in need of his attention. His heart is filled with pity for them. The overriding symbol used by Mark is that of the ‘messianic banquet’, where God feeds all those who come to him, no matter how diverse the background. Mark’s picture of Jesus is one who is in command: he knows what he will do with the crowds, despite the suggestions of the disciples to send them away. He commands that the loaves and fishes be brought to him. And as the host at a meal, he blesses the bread, looking up to heaven, and gives it to his disciples to distribute. This account is also reminiscent of the Last Supper, where he will “take bread, bless, break and give.” Though the fish do not figure any further in the narrative, the very first Christian symbol from the Roman catacombs is the ‘sign of the fish’ ichthys, the Greek acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’. Mark highlights the person of Jesus as the Messiah in the midst of the messianic people. The twelve baskets symbolise the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is full of compassion for his people who assemble around him expectantly. In this incident, Jesus continues to say to the Church, her ministers and the people, “they need not go away, you give them something to eat.” The ministers of Christ, conscious of their own weakness, turn to Christ as the source of nourishment. But they must first know him as “the compassionate one”, and experience the power of his word, before they give him to his people in the celebration of the Eucharist.
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