The loaves and the fish

The 18th Sunday of Ordinary time

On the Gospel of Matthew 14:13-21

This is one of my favourite stories from the Bible for several reasons. In this story we see both the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

Jesus was grieving after the death of his beloved cousin, John the Baptist and He sets off to find a place of solitude where He can be alone with his Father. But his attempt to find this solitude is thwarted when He arrives at His destination to find that thousands of people have set out to find him. Now some of us might have reacted by turning our backs on the crowd and setting off again to find another place where we could be alone, not wanting to deal with other people when feeling so sad. But here the all-loving, compassionate, fatherly heart of God is made manifest in Jesus who does not think of Himself but instead His grief-stricken heart is moved with pity for the people, His children, who had sought Him.

This is a reminder to us of the Christian vocation to live for others out of love for them. When our plans are interrupted by someone who needs our help we can see this as a nuisance or as an opportunity to be Christlike and give them the care and attention that they need. We can ask Christ to help us to help them by giving Him the little that we have and asking Him to use the gifts and talents He has given us to serve our brothers and sisters.

This story also displays God’s wonderful providence for us. The disciples only had five loaves and two fish, barely enough to feed themselves and yet, Jesus, knowing what they had, asks them to feed the thousands of people. A complete impossibility, right? But scripture tells us “what is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27)
The disciples give the little they have to Jesus and He is then able to perform a great miracle. Here we see what God can do when we gladly give Him the little that we have. When God asks something of us that is good and that we would prefer to keep for ourselves, He does not want to deprive us of it. He wishes us to gladly give it to Him so that He can use it for our benefit and the benefit of others. And the best part? God then gives us back much more in return because God can never be outdone in generosity and, as St. Paul tells us, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7)

But the main reason why I love this story is because it is a foreshadowing of the greatest miracle Jesus ever performed – the Institution of The Eucharist at the Last Supper. As great a miracle as the multiplication of the loaves and the fish was, an even greater miracle is performed before our eyes every time we are at Mass. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Each communion bread that is on the altar at Mass truly and completely becomes Jesus Christ. The very same Jesus Christ who once multiplied the loaves and the fish now offers Himself to each of us as the Bread of Life. This is a truly profound miracle and one that we can overlook so easily because of familiarity.

Let us therefore strive to renew our sense of wonder and awe each time we are present for this great miracle at Mass so that we can receive Jesus with profound gratitude for giving us so great a gift.

Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, “
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.

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