Loaves and Fishes: Our Gifts Multiplied to Nourish Those in Need

By Deacon Keith Fournier Published on January 20, 2016

DEACON KEITH FOURNIER — The story of Jesus taking one boy’s meal and using it to feed a multitude is one of the few miracles recorded in all four gospels, which signals there must be something especially significant here. The story, I am convinced, holds the secret of both generosity and joy.

Mark relates the story in chapter six of his Gospel. Jesus takes the apostles away by boat to a deserted place to get them some much-needed rest from all the crowds. But the crowds follow Jesus around the lake. I can just imagine the weary apostles as they pull the boat up the shore, thinking, “Oh brother, we need some rest, and here they are again!”

Jesus, who must have been as tired as his disciples, has a very different response: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34)

When it begins to get late, the disciples tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can walk to one of the nearby farms or villages to get something to eat. (Mark 6:35-36) The Gospel of Mark continues:

But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. (Mark 6:37-44)

We can give the disciples this much credit: they saw people in need and tried to find a way to help them. They got it wrong, though, when they thought all Jesus could do about it would be to send them off to find food elsewhere.

God’s greater possibilities

They were seeing the situation through the eyes of man, who only sees scarcity, not through the eyes of God. Their blinkered economics squeezed out their sense of greater possibilities, and in the process, their charitable impulse as well. It threatened to rob them of the opportunity to participate in God’s loving plan.

But Jesus was there, and in his sacred humanity, he was moved with compassion for the crowd. The root of the English word for compassion means “to suffer with.” He didn’t just snap his fingers and produce all the necessary food for the crowd. Living in a reality that included the divine economy, he could have done that, but instead he begins by asking the disciples a simple question: “What do you have?”

With that question he was inviting them to participate in God’s miraculous work by giving what they had in a holy exchange. A boy with five loaves and two fishes answers the call (as we learn from the account in the Gospel of John). The boy thus enters into the crowd’s experience of want by giving up his lunch, risking in the process the possibility that he too will “suffer with” everyone else who was there hungry and without food.

From that act of compassion, from matter given by man, Jesus manifested the manna of heaven.

Then he dismisses the crowd and goes off to pray while the apostles make their way across the lake in the boat. Late in the night Jesus looks out and sees them straining at the oars against the wind, and he walks out on the water toward them. When they see him they cry out in terror, thinking it’s a ghost.

But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:50b-52)

What was the lesson they had missed? Jesus had shown them that when they have him they have everything they need. Yet, there on the lake at night (as also on the hillside earlier that day) they concluded their circumstances were too great for God to handle. So powerful were their fears, they didn’t even recognize the Word Incarnate as He passed right before them! They thought he was a ghost!

Our crippling fears

How crippling our own fears can become when we do not commune with God in prayer, but rely on our own mere human effort. The disciples had not grasped the significance of the loaves. Do we? This kind of understanding only comes from communion with the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit. It is the fruit of a living, dynamic and authentic faith.

The Lord heard the cry of the poor and multiplied loaves and fishes for them. He heard the cries of his own disciples in the midst of that storm. And He spoke these beautiful words: “Take courage it is I: do not be afraid”.

Like the disciples, we are invited to live our lives in communion with the Lord through faith. Faith is a light meant to shine across our entire lives, even during life’s inevitable storms. It gives us sight to see Jesus right there in the midst of the raging wind and the tossing seas. It enables us to experience peace even in turmoil, to navigate the waters of daily life with the compass of compassion rather than fear, guided by the Holy Spirit into the divine economy with its extraordinary possibilities.

Most likely we will never experience a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish of the exact sort the disciples witnessed, but in the presence of Christ we can still live in the divine economy. Jesus asks us to take the goods we have been given — whether financial, spiritual, relational or the skills and talents entrusted to us — and place them in his holy hands. They are gifts we have been given, and now gifts to be given. (Matt. 10:8)

In the hands of the Risen Lord, our gifts will be multiplied and returned to us, not first for our own use but to nourish those in need — yet always with more than enough left over to provide for our own needs as well.


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