A familiar story comes to us today – the feeding of the four thousand. There are many of these stories of the feeding of multitudes, and with them comes a lot of numbers: the numbers of loaves, baskets, and people are all different. 5,000 were fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Now we have 7 loaves, 7 baskets, and 4,000 people, and we don’t even know how many fish.
Some have argued that the symbology and numerology of today’s readings reflects a fulfillment of the tribes and Gentiles when paired together. That is a lovely speculation, but often these stories stand alone, and making these comparisons across Gospel narratives is a stretch. But lest you feel a sore disappointment, think about the larger picture – we come to find out that the point of the story has nothing to do with numerology, but with grace. The point is that God feeds those in need – that Jesus came to satisfy the hungry – a lot of them – literally.
It was just a couple days ago I stood in the site that this probably happened. It is a natural amphitheater around the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus could be heard at water’s edge, and where thousands could have gathered around him to hear and to break bread together. It was humbling being there in Israel.
It also was a place of extravagant food – fresh fruit, fish, cheeses. That’s St. Peter’s fish above was lunch just a couple days ago – and you all know how I love to take pictures of my food. But it wasn’t this talapia with its head on making it succulent and moist and buttery that made the meal. It was when I looked up and discovered the amazing table fellowship at hand.
This is the true miracle that this story points us to. It is about people coming together in miraculous and extraordinary ways. And when they do, we are fed.
The fact is that abundance is all around us. The table fellowship binds us together and makes us one. Is this starting to sound familiar.
Through Jesus’ confidence, the miracle breaks forth. “How many loaves do you have?” He takes the seven loaves, gives thanks, breaks the bread, and gave it to them.
This feast becomes a foreshadow of the Lord’s Table, where again we encounter the same verbs, although different elements of bread and wine. But the same – Take, Offer thanks, Break, Give. This is not only a story of abundance, but a foreshadowing of the great feeding that happens every Sunday. The Church continues to re-enact this story of grace. And we, like the crowds, are indeterminate. 4,000. 5,000. It doesn’t really matter. God feeds as many as show up. It is not only spiritual food, but actual food, his own body.
The miracle truly is multifaceted. This story has to do with “being astounded.” The miracle is not only in the feeding of these people, but the level of dumbfoundedness on everyone’s face. “Astounded beyond measure.” The profundity gets larger, as the miracle gets larger.
The mystery is growing. And so is the grace. See why I like Mark?
May we all be fed in these dark times. Fed with the food that will never leave us hungry.