The feeding of the 5000 is recorded in all four Gospels. Like the Creation, it is a significant historical event. Both events are a demonstration of the Divine prerogative.
This story happens just after the death of John the Baptist. When Jesus heard that his cousin was beheaded, He did what most of us do when a friend or relative dies - He went off to a quiet place to think, pray and grieve.
People had heard of Jesus and his teaching and healing, and they wanted what He had to offer. They searched for Him and found Him just when He wanted to be alone. Was He angry with them? No. On the contrary, He had compassion for them and taught them and healed the sick. Christ’s compassion made Him unable to ignore the needs of the people.
By night time, the people were still there, and they did not have anything to eat all day. The disciples wanted Jesus to send them away so they could get food in the nearby villages, but Jesus had other ideas, and just like the crowd interrupted Jesus’ plans, Jesus, in turn, interrupted the disciples’ plans. He told them to feed the crowd.
Now, the disciples had a problem. Where were they going to get enough food? All they had was five loaves of bread and two fish, and that certainly would not be enough to feed everyone-or so they thought. God often asks His people to do the impossible, but He makes the impossible possible. He gives us the strength and resources to complete tasks that we cannot complete on our own.
Jesus was in control of the situation. He gave instructions about how the situation was to be resolved. Jesus took the food, blessed it and had the disciples distribute it to the people. Low and behold, there was more than enough food. In fact, there were 12 baskets of leftovers!
In the beginning, we are told in the ancient account, God created all things out of nothing. Ex Nihilo! But we are also told that man (as one example) was formed of the dust of the ground.
So why do people have difficulty believing in the historicity of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000? It is because they fail to see the divine nature of Jesus. Because He is God, He is able as God to make a small amount of food go much further than is humanly possible. That which He first created is also formed into what it was not hitherto. It is multiplied!
Jesus was moved with compassion towards the multitude which followed Him and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14). They were, after all, like sheep without a shepherd! That compassion reached out indiscriminately to the whole crowd, 5000 men plus women and children, when He fed them with but five loaves and two fishes. Some would prove hypocritical, following Him only to fill their bellies (John 6:26) - but that was not His concern here. They were all fed to the full by Jesus, and there was still a sufficiency in reserve when they had finished.
Such is the abundance of His compassion. But what of ours? I need not recount statistics: we all know that there is an inequality in this world which is to our very shame if we have more than enough and are content to let the majority of humankind starve!
The miraculous feeding of the 5000 in the Gospel is not an everyday occurrence, but it does carry a spiritual message for those with eyes to see. This is not to take away from the historicity of the event, nor to needlessly allegorize. However, in the light of Jesus' own teaching of Himself as the Bread of Life, we cannot fail to acknowledge that the miracle stands as a sign of His own sufficiency as discovered in the Cross.
In our own experience as Christians, we are also made very much aware of the events of Calvary in partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. This also lays upon us an obligation. Just as we must have a care for the physical poverty in our global village, we must also seek to bring the spiritual food of life to a world that hungers not only for bread but for the very Word of God (Amos 8:11-12).
The miracle of the loaves and fish is that it shows that in God’s kingdom there is enough of everything for everyone. Jesus’ ability to create so much out of so little shows His mastery over the natural realm. The miracle shows us God’s character, the nature of the coming Kingdom, and the nature of the Kingdom in our hearts when it has transformed us. Our Heavenly Father, as the head of the household, sustains and liberates us and guides us to spiritual fulfillment. The foundation of God’s household is the duty He imposes on us to care for each other.
Jesus always seems to be asking more of us than we are able to give: as spouses and parents, as students and workers, and on and on. He calls on us to love, even when love is difficult; to forgive, even when we have been wronged; to stand fast and firm on our principles, even when it means standing alone. And those things are not easy to do. After all, we are not Jesus, and our powers are not unlimited, as His were.
God’s abundance is right here, right now, wherever right here and whenever right now may be. We think we do not have enough not because our supplies are too small, but because our “we” is too small. The “we” includes God and the gifts of all those among whom we are sent as Christ’s body. Indeed, far more of the gifts are “out there” than “in here”. That’s how it is that ministry in God’s kingdom grows by becoming viral and multiplying. God meets our needs daily. He will give us what we need when it is needed. Matthew 6:32-33 reads, “Your heavenly Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.”
Jesus bore witness to our spiritual duty to care for each other. There is enough for everyone when we live in right relation and harmony with each other. But there are millions of people who live in poverty and are starving. What can we do? Well, we can do what Jesus did. Jesus took the small amount of food that was offered and used it to do His work by using it as an example for the disciples and for us. When we give to God, no matter how much or how little, it is returned to us tenfold. We provide the best we can to do God’s work, and God rolls up His sleeves and gets to work with us. We must be willing to work with God and with other people. When we work together and use what God has given us to do His work, God will multiply what we offer, because He is driven by our needs and not by our wants.
We are not to be a band-aid that provides a small amount of healing and protection for the hurting people around us. The Church must be fused with those who have been hurt by society, working as a unit to bring about healing. Part of our strategy is to become a vital part of life in our community and in all other communities in which the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church has a presence, not just a place for people to visit on the weekends but truly to be a healing place for a hurting world.
For example, we must minister to those in “deserted places”- the sick, dying, imprisoned and elderly. They often feel on the fringe of life, less than appreciated, less than valued. When we minister to them, we are essentially telling them that they are part of our Church community, part of the people who are fed by God.
Every one of us has a hunger for something - a hunger we try to fill with food, houses, spouses, careers, cars, sex, drugs or something else. This hunger is why many of us go to church. We have a hunger that only God can satisfy, and it can only be satisfied by regular weekly church attendance. Those who only go to church on special occasions, or who refuse to go because they do not like the priest, or the time of the Divine Liturgy, or the length of the Divine Liturgy will never have their hunger completely satisfied.
God gives us strength and cares for us when we get discouraged. God accepts us and gives us grace because we do not always feel accepted. God gives us generosity because we tend to be selfish. God gives us love because we want to be loved.
Those who serve the Lord get to enjoy the fruit of the abundant supply that Jesus gives. God’s rewards are for anyone who commits themselves to His kingdom work. Jesus is the example we are to follow. Each and every one of us is invited to follow Him, to take and eat of His life, of His love, of His forgiveness. This story is a witness to the power of God. It is a story of grace that is sparked and motivated by the love and compassion of Jesus.
Jesus is going beyond feeding the people. He is transforming this moment on this remote hillside into a holy moment, a sacred celebration. He intends to offer these people something to eat, but He also intends to offer them something more. He plans to involve them in a holy occasion, a moment when they can experience the presence of God in their midst, a moment when they can see Jesus revealed to them as the Son of God.
When we dine together at the Lord’s Table, God’s power is alive. His power produces an abundance of grace, power, love, and the fulfillment of our needs, just like there were twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone in the crowd was fed. This can only happen when everyone is included. Only then will a faith community become a beacon of welcoming light to the disadvantaged and the less fortunate.
We remember the bread every time we come to receive the Holy Eucharist and see the blessing given, the bread broken, and the food shared. We commune in memory of and in the presence of the One who gazed towards the crowds with compassion. Sharing a meal creates and maintains a sense of community. When we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ satisfies our deepest hunger, heals our brokenness, and binds us together as one body and strengthens us to do His work in our world.
God has given each of us different gifts, talents, and abilities. We are different parts of the same body of Christ. Architects, lawyers, police officer, firefighters, engineers, volunteers, teachers, priests and lay ministers all stand together to help slow the spread of famine and accomplish the work of the kingdom. Some are called by God to make great sacrifices, but God wants all of us to respond to His call in our lives. For those who have little, they can pray for those who are willing to serve in a foreign land, and the wealthy can help by giving out of their abundance to support those who have walked away from well-paying jobs to serve the less fortunate in society.
Jesus’ actions with the crowd are actions that even the playing field, actions that make sure everyone is taken care of. They were radical actions at that time, and they are radical actions today. They seem foreign to a culture that is driven by dollars and profit, and they were so foreign in Jesus’ time that He was put to death over them. But following Jesus is a radical lifestyle, and Jesus asks us if we are willing to do the same. Are we willing to give up some of what we have, that others might not go hungry? Are we willing to give out of what God has given to us?
Look around you, beloved, and do not close your eyes to the need of your fellow man. Jesus feeds you and nourishes you with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation. What are you willing to do for those who have nothing to eat physically and spiritually? Become a co-worker with God in building up His Kingdom of love, justice, and peace.