Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14: 13-21)
The story of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is well known. It appears in all four of the Gospels and is told with an understated simplicity that speaks to the historical veracity of the event and to the supernatural power at the heart of it. There are many levels to the narrative, beginning with the literal one: Jesus, moved with great pity, miraculously fed the hungry crowds that followed him into the wilderness.
But to better appreciate this story, we should be mindful of what Matthew wrote about immediately prior: the violent and heinous murder of John the Baptist by Herod the tetrarch. John had been imprisoned because he publicly rebuked Herod—who considered himself a Jew—for marrying his sister-in-law Herodias . Herod, bound by a rash promise made at his birthday celebration, ordered the execution of John, who was beheaded in prison.
The contrasts that emerge are so telling. The violent and egomaniac Herod is contrasted with Jesus, who is moved by pity, mercy, and love. Herod grasped after earthy power and pleasures; Jesus, on the other hand, reached out in humility to the townspeople who hungered for his words.
While Herod feasted in a palace and shed innocent blood, Jesus and his followers ate simple food miraculously multiplied. And in doing so, as the Gospel of John emphasizes, Jesus taught how his innocent body and blood would be given up as true food and true drink for our salvation.
Herod was a self-serving man driven by strong and sinful passions: lust, violence, anger. Jesus was perfectly oriented to the will of his Father, continually spending time in prayer so he could bring light and life to those dwelling in darkness and in the shadow of death.
The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a microcosm of salvation history, a concrete demonstration of how the Incarnation reaches man where he lives so man can live where he cannot reach on his own.
Prayer of The Day
Lord Jesus Christ, you satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts and you feed us with the finest of wheat (Psalm 81:16). Fill me with gratitude for your blessings and give me a generous heart that I may freely share with others what you have given to me.
The feeding of the five thousand shows the remarkable generosity of God and his great kindness towards us. When God gives, he gives abundantly. He gives more than we need for ourselves that we may have something to share with others, especially those who lack what they need. God takes the little we have and multiplies it for the good of others.