LEARN TO LIVE, LIVE TO LEARN
“To know much and taste nothing-of what use is that?” ―St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio
"Hello Bro Jeff, May I ask...I have encountered about two priests who interpreted the multiplication of loaves as people sharing their food with others. It was a miracle of sharing, not really multiplication. Is this another acceptable explanation?" - Scarlet
1. The feeding of the multitude is a story which we’ve all grown up with. Jesus has been teaching on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has been teaching all day. The people are tired and hungry. Jesus blessed five loaves and two fish and miraculously fed five thousand with no fewer than twelve basketfuls of leftovers. The story is recounted by all four gospel writers: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; and John 6:1-14.
2. Sceptics dismiss the miracle story. Most of them say that perhaps what really happened is that many people had brought food with them to the event and realized that others hadn't. So the miracle here was not the multiplication of loaves and fish but the the miracle of sharing. This interpretation was first proposed by Heinrich E.G. Paulus, 19th century German theologian and critic of the Bible. Paulus, a staunch protestant rationalist, does not allow for any miraculous element. Instead, he posited that Jesus got the people to share their packed lunch with the others.
3. While it is praiseworthy for followers of Jesus to share food and for the "materially blessed" to be responsible in the use of their wealth, the story isn’t about that at all.
4. Early Church Fathers talk about the Feeding of the 5000 as applying to the Eucharist. John 6: 1-24 is the Feeding of the 5000 and Verse 25 on is Jesus’ explanation of what the Bread was.
5. This miraculous feeding is a foreshadowing of the miraculous feeding of the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly teaches that, "The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist." (CCC#1335)
6. This was an extremely needy crowd. They could not feed themselves or each other. I personally do not subscribe to the thought that the people have hoarded food under their clothes. There is nothing in the text about people having packed their own lunches, about there being rich people who shared. Hence, Jesus' command was "Give them something to eat" not "Tell them to share their packed lunches".
7. The Early Church Fathers also taught that the groupings of 50 and 100 in Mark's account were like grouping the people in parishes and dioceses. And that the Apostles were the New Covenant priests (cf. Matthew 12:1-8). They are giving out the Body of Christ in the New Covenant.
8. In Matthew 14: 18-20, "Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over." In these verses, it wasn’t the crowd sharing the food it was hoarding. It was the Apostles sharing the five loaves and two fish. Jesus didn’t suddenly multiply the food so that the Apostles were beholding a pile of 5,000 fish and 200 loaves. Instead, the miracle happened as the apostles were distributing what they receive from Jesus' hands to the crowd. After Jesus' feeding program, there was one basket for each disciple. Within each basket was more food than they started with. Each man had proof in his own hands of the miracle. There was a real, physical miracle, but it was accomplished through an act of the Apostles sharing what was originally a tiny amount of food.
9. This story gives us some insight into what God can do with a little. Like the young boy, God wants us to bring what we have to Him. The quantity does not matter. This boy's lunch appeared to be insufficient in proportion to the number of people and this boy appeared to be insignificant among the multitude of people. Our time, talent and treasure are clearly inadequate to meet the needs of a hungry world. This gospel commands us to put the little that we have in the hands of Jesus anyway, trusting that He will multiply them.
10. There are different ways to interpret Scriptures. Two known ways are Exegesis and Eisegesis. On the one hand, Exegesis refers to an explanation of the biblical text based on an investigation of the language, history, and culture of a passage in its original setting. In Exegesis, the Bible student asks, "What's the context?" On the other hand, Eisegesis refers to interpretation of a passage of Scripture based on a subjective understanding of the text. Here, the Bible student asks, "What does this verse mean to me?" or "How does this passage make me feel?" The proposal of protestant rationalists like Heinrich E.G. Paulus is an Eisegesis. Highlighting the value of sharing will pass as a good devotional or tool for faith enrichment. However, we must be careful not to use the same thought in spelling out Doctrine like the Holy Eucharist or to challenge historicity of the miracle actually performed by our Lord Jesus Christ.
11. In keeping with Scriptural context and the 2000 year-old tradition of the Catholic Church, I hold that the feeding of the five thousand was a genuine and supernatural miracle that could not have been accomplished by any natural means whatsoever.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum