Thursday, January 5, 2012

Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes

Q - In the miracle of the loaves and fishes it states that Jesus broke the loaves and fishes and handed them to his disciples. If he broke it and handed it to his disciples, were the 5,000 given a small piece of bread and were satisfied or did it really multiply? If it multiplied then why were the disciples still doubtful as to whether Jesus was really the Messiah? I know if I saw bread multiply before my eyes I would not have any doubts.

A - Thanks for your question. I would like to define a miracle according to this definition:
"A sign or wonder...which can only be attributed to Divine power." (CCC Glossary)
Now, I know how you feel. Sometimes I read the Bible and think - what about of hard-headed fools! If only I had the opportunity to see Lazarus raised from the dead, a cripple walk, water turned into wine, demons cast out of people, or the loaves and fishes multiplied. It would have been so much easier to believe!

But, then I realize that it wasn't any easier for the persons who walked with Jesus than it is for us. Put yourself into this scene for a minute. You are in a crowd and this man (a human like us) teaches some hard sayings - including forgiving your enemies and lending without expecting repayment. You are challenged, but not quite convinced. You then see him ask for some food and he is handed some loaves and fishes. He then gives them to his followers who start to distribute them to others. Before you know it, he has given enough for everyone in the crowd to eat. Some are awe-struck. Others think it is some kind of trick. You aren't so sure. Neither am I. But, I want to believe. So do you, but your have questions.
Matthew 19:26 - "Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.""
It isn't that God can't do something miraculous, it is that our ideas about God are too small.

This story is a foreshadowing of the gift of the Eucharist that Christ gave the Church at the Last Supper. One miracle points to a greater one. Instead of being fed bread that can satisfy the body, we are given bread from heaven that will last forever! There is no greater miracle, so at the center of our faith is the Eucharist. Is it obvious? No. That is because God doesn't want to make it "easy", God wants us to believe, though we can't "see" Him.

There are six times in the Gospels that Christ feeds the crowds - Matthew14 and 15, Mark 6 and 8, Luke 9, and John 6. So, this was apparently a very important story. So, why would this story be told? To reveal to us, once again, the divinity of Christ, among other reasons. What would be extraordinary about everyone getting a tiny morsel? Nothing.

If it were not miraculous, then some would not have had this reaction:
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone. - John 6:15
Based on this evidence we can get a "literal" meaning from the text. In Catholic exegesis of the Bible the literal understanding means "what meaning the original human author meant to convey and what his audience understood him to mean". Thus, the literal meaning of this passage is John (and the other gospel writers) thought they saw a miracle and their readers would think the same (as is reflected in early Church reflections on this event).

But, even with this, they don't fully understand the reason or implications. They think he is some powerful king come to rescue them from the Romans. Thus, he later says in John 6:
And when they found him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
After this Jesus uses the event to give the greatest teaching on the Eucharist - the bread of life discourse in John 6. When he is done teaching many leave because "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" - John 6:60.

We can learn something here. Christ words SHOULD challenge us. But, our response is what will determine everything.

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