“So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” – John 6:1-15
We have heard this Gospel many times. I remember back in Jersey as a little kid thinking about how it was actually done (youngsters have inquiring minds). I had several different versions.
- All the extra Food and loaves just appeared out of thin air – like magic – on the ground in front of them.
- Whenever a loaf was broken in half or a fish cut – it would immediately grow back the other half and they kept repeating this over and over until all were fed.
- They put the fish in one basket and the loaves in another (don’t ask me where the baskets came from or why they had them) and then the baskets kept filling up from the bottom up until all were fed.
- The food appeared (again – like magic) in each person’s satchel (these were the days before back-packs) and then they shared with each other.
As I grew older I began to see different layers in the story beyond the spectacular multiplication miracle. I reflected not so much on how it happened – but why it happened. Bottom line –people were hungry – for food. But Jesus also fed them spiritually. It is a story of compassion and love from the one who personified both.
Thus, the feeding of the 5000 is not just about dinner, about actual eating that is. It is about how we are to treat one another, to show hospitality, to care for those among who hunger and thirst not just for bread and water – but for justice and righteousness.
Jesus could have sent them all on their way, but these people had traveled a great distance to see him, to hear him, to touch him. So he took what he had – blest it, broke it, and shared it – foreshadowing what would happen to his own body – as it would be broken and shared with us all as the Body of Christ – as much so, now for us today at this Mass, as it was at the Last Supper.
So we do not turn away or turn others away. We make do with what we have; we share it, give it, freely. God takes it from there. I remember a Franciscan Sister telling us; “Do your best, pray that it’s blest, and He’ll take care of the rest.” Good advice today as then.
The Bible is full of wonderful stories. Some are to be taken literally, bearing the same weight as our Roman Catholic Dogmas and Doctrines. Some are only parables, but teach a great lesson. Some are conflations of various events, relating in ‘one telling’ things that may have happened multiple times.
And so, we can look at the multiplication of loaves and fish as an actual event, or we can see it as a story about sharing. I, for one, think that it actually happened just as we heard, but for the life of me —- I still can’t figure out how!
All the best,