The Miracle of the Feeding of Five Thousand
The Feeding of the 5,000 was the only miracle recorded by all of four gospel writers. Of any of the Bible stories, it ranks alongside Noah and Jonah as one of the top 'signs and wonders' that most non-Christians know about from the Bible. The story is rich with meaning and truth. Page after page can be gleaned and written from this one story. But the story is really less about the miraculous multiplication of food and more about the breaking of bread. It's really all about the breaking of Jesus.
Feeding of the Five Thousand
|Material:||"Five—and two fish"|
|Formal:||"The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand."|
|Efficient:||"He had compassion on them...Then Jesus directed them...He gave thanks and broke the loaves." (Love, obedience, thankfulness and brokenness)|
|Final:||"To believe in the one he has sent" (John 6:29); "For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:40)|
|Aristotle's Four Causes|
Let's read Mark's version of the miracle which goes into the most detail.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
What I would like to emphasize about this miracle is the efficient cause or the supernatural law of brokenness of this age. God saves his people by the once-and-for-all sacrifice of his son on the cross. Jesus called himself the bread of life, a living sacrifice which had to be broken for our salvation. Jesus uses this miracle to demonstrate what will happen to him and how he will be distributed to the hungry. This miracle is a precursor to Holy Communion.
Even after Jesus' death and resurrection, Jesus continues to explain the importance of brokenness when two despondent disciples walked the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus appeared to them and lifted their spirits by explaining everything to them, but it wasn't until they broke bread together that they truly understood what the meaning of Jesus' sacrifice.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
As the bread of life, Jesus was broken for us. Another one of our supernatural laws is atonement, expiation or payment of the debt of our sin. The debt of wrongdoing and sin cannot go unaccounted. Jesus pays for our sin on the cross. The people are hungry because of sin. And every time we sin, we are breaking the bread of life. But this is the way it is supposed to be. This is how we are saved from damnation.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty...."
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
John 6:32-35, 53-58
Although we will always be in a state of sin until we are fully with God, Jesus gave us a way for atonement. We offer him our sin through repentance. Sin is the only real offering we can give to Christ. We offer it to him on the cross. In the Catholic tradition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist are tied together. Through our sin that we offer him through repentance, Jesus is broken. We eat him in the sacrament and our sin is healed. Then we distribute him to others through love, kindness, faith and all the fruits of the spirit. This is why just after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, as noted above, Jesus explains that when we eat of him and drink of his blood, we have life. He went to the cross, so the world could have salvation. But what does he do with our sin? He transforms our sin to something worthy. And this is why we have the Eucharist in this age. In the coming age there will be no sacraments, for we will be with him fully and there will be no more sin.
It’s all about the cross in this age. It’s all about us “repentant sinners” being made fit for his kingdom. It’s impossible to not be a sinner. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Jesus came to heal the sick. He said, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”
I know for myself, it’s impossible for the Adam in me (see Romans “Old man”) to not be in a state of sin. I am not good enough on my own. We are only good enough, through Christ’s intervention. This is why Paul called himself the chief of sinners. This is why Jesus said he came to give life to the sinner.
Jesus feeds us through his sacrifice, but eating his body and blood isn't the end of it. The food is also the work that we do with Jesus in our hearts.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29
Believing doesn't just end with an idea. Believing is also doing what Jesus calls us to do. Can you believe in what Jesus is calling you to do today?
I don't think it's a coincident that just after the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus had to retreat and pray. Doing the will of his Father took energy from him. Jesus had to rest also and so must we. It wasn't only the bread that was broken during the miracle. He was broken as well.
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
We must take time out and pray after we do the will of the Father. We must take time to pray and listen to our Father. It is in this rest that we heal from the work that we do. Because we are broken as well.
The miracles took a toll on Jesus, so much so that the ultimate miracle (the salvation of the world) took his life. As Christians we shouldn't seek miracles for our own particular situations. We are being broken for Jesus. In our brokenness that we are doing the will of God. How often does it hurt to listen to someone's painful situation? How often does caring for someone who doesn't care take a toll on you? Doing the will of the Father can be thankless work and we should expect it to be painful. With Jesus on the cross, we become a broken people. We are broken in Jesus for the salvation of the world.
In John's account, he adds, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." How often do we take Jesus for granted in our lives? We should never let Jesus be wasted. When he comes into our lives and gives us breath and life, we shouldn't waste him on useless enterprise. We shouldn't waste the life that he gives us on anything but doing the will of the Father. When Jesus enters my life and animates me, I no longer live for myself, but I live for him. When I engage in actions that aren't directed toward his kingdom, in essence, I'm tossing him into the garbage. We must heed his command and "Let nothing be wasted."
In the next miracle we will look at one particular incident when Jesus even explained that miracles drained him. He actually could feel power being drawn from him when he healed a women. How often have you felt drained when you served someone for God? When you do, remember to recharge: retreat by yourself and pray to God.