"The Multiplication of Loaves"
January 4, 2011
No miracle Jesus worked was more ’public’ than this one. No event had greater repercussions on his ministry. Its importance was such that the story 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.
In Mark’s account, Jesus stands out as the ‘good shepherd’, whose heart goes out to the ordinary people, drifting like lost sheep. His pity moves him to assuage the spiritual hunger of the crowds by teaching them. Even more, his miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes feeds them physically. With the Lord, both spiritual hunger and physical need are related. Alleviating the one is meant to aid the other.
Mark deliberately brings in allusions to God feeding his people in the desert with manna. The people are told to sit down and recline, as at table. The allusion to ‘green grass’ in the wasteland is a direct evocation of the psalm, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’. Indeed, the symbol is that of the ‘messianic banquet’, where God feeds all those who come to him, no matter how diverse their background.
Jesus 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 them to his disciples to distribute. This account is also reminiscent of the Last Supper, where he will “take bread, bless, break and give”. Our word eucharist comes from ‘to give thanks’. And 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’.
In this incident, Jesus continues to say to the Church, her ministers and the people, “they need not go away”, “give them something to eat.” The ministers, 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.