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.
For those who like symbolism and numerology, today’s reading becomes a sore disappointment. We come to find out that the point of the story has nothing to do with numerology, but with grace. The symbolism is indeterminate. The point is that God feeds those in need – that Jesus came to satisfy the hungry – literally.
It doesn’t matter how many. God can handle whatever, whoever, however many.
The fact is that abundance is all around us. The miracle is in Jesus’ confidence. He boldly moves forward by simply asking, “How many loaves do you have?” He takes the seven loaves, gives thanks, breaks the bread, and gave it to them.
Notice that we have the same four verbs that we do at the Lord’s Supper. 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.
This story also 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. The story before also saw the people being “astounded beyond measure.” The profundity gets larger, as the miracle gets larger. Then we have the story of the yeast, directly following today’s reading. In other words, we are getting to the point where no one is understanding how or why or to what extent Jesus is doing these things. This profundity carries us right to the cross.
The mystery is growing. And so is the grace. And we are going along for the ride. See why I like Mark?