The first thing I should say about the multiplication of the loaves and fish is that it’s not about sharing – as though the real miracle was people shared. That’s a lazy interpretation. It’s a miracle of multiplication, plain and simple.
It’s one of the great signs given by Jesus and intended to cause all those present to ask; who is this man that he can feed thousands out of almost nothing and still have plenty left over?
Like all Jesus’ miracles the feeding has a much deeper meaning. If he can satisfy the physical hunger of thousands out of five loaves and two fish then he can satisfy humankind, full stop!
It points to a much deeper satisfaction and the Church with the benefit of hindsight (apart from its obvious connection with Moses) understands it as prefiguring how Christ satisfies his followers by sharing himself with them in the Eucharist.
Sadly many people – many Catholics among them, particularly cradle Catholics – do not understand the deeper meaning that Jesus can satisfy the human heart. Actually it’s an over-abundance of satisfaction symbolised by the baskets of scraps left over after “they all ate as much as they wanted…”
Thus they look at the Church, particularly the Mass, the summit of the Christian life and like the disciples looking at the loaves and fish they look at the bread and wine and think there’s not enough there, we must go elsewhere – corresponding to the disciples “send the people away and they can go to the villages…” Is this not the root of the vocation crisis?
But Jesus says “there is no need for them to go…”
There are just a few more points to note.
The people were fed because they pursued Jesus relentlessly, even out to a lonely place; “he withdrew by boat to a lonely place… but the people… leaving the towns went after him on foot.” But they didn’t just go after him, they stayed with him, time was lost, “the time has slipped by so send the people away” before they fall down with hunger! They were so taken in their pursuit of Jesus that they never thought of taking a packed lunch!
Does your participation in the Eucharist look anything like the participation of the thousands in this Gospel passage?
When you and I start following Jesus like that he’ll start feeding us too!
The spiritual life is littered with big holes that carry the name ‘looks like’ and multitudes fall down them. It looks like the Church is dying but it only looks like it. Actually the near death experience of the Church will allow other events to happen in the world. We live in a very ordered universe. It’s a war for God’s sake!
Scripture scholars pretty much agree that the early Christians were members of the synagogue and for Matthew’s community they were primarily Jewish. The symbolism of the multiplication was clear to the early Christians as equating Jesus with Moses or Elisha. We like to think that there was a Eucharistic component to the story, but the Jewish people understood that Jesus was the new Moses. That is as deep as the Gospel writers were going on this feeding of the multitude.
I apologize that I do not feel the Mass is the summit of Christian life, but I am happy you have something you look forward to each week, or day.
I’m aware of the points you make. Eucharistic interpretation came with the benefit of hindsight and was probably inevitable. But it came early. The cover of Mike Aquilina’s book ‘The Mass of the early Christians’ pictures a mosaic found in the remains of a Byzantine church in Tabgha, Israel. It’s a fifth century mosaic of the loaves and fishes which was a favourite symbol of the Eucharist in the Patristic era.
Here’s a link to Scott Hahn’s thoughts on the same Gospel in which he suggests Eucharistic interpretation (he includes the readings) http://www.salvationhistory.com/blog/food_in_due_season_scott_hahn_reflects_on_the_eighteenth_sunday_in_ordinary/