The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 55:1-3 + Romans 8:35,37-39 + Matthew 14:13-21
… he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
What do you think is the meaning of Jesus feeding a crowd of more than five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? Was Jesus simply showing his power to work a miracle: demonstrating his power over material things? Of course, that was part of it. But this miracle of feeding the five thousand has far more to tell us about Christ than just this.
Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear Him preach. Just how deep Christ’s compassion was is made obvious when we consider again something the first verse of this passage tells us. Jesus is told about the hunger of the crowds right after hearing of John the Baptist’s death, and withdrawing by boat to a deserted place by Himself. If we were to imagine this, we would see just how human Christ was, responding in grief and perhaps anger at the murder of His cousin. He withdrew from others to be by Himself. Yet even at this point in His life, the needs of others pressed upon Him. His response was that of God Himself: He turned to help those in need.
We could look at this compassion of Jesus and see in it an example for ourselves. As Christians, we are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ and imitate Him. We are especially to imitate the sort of self-sacrifice that He shows in this passage, the sort of self-sacrifice that came to full expression in His death on the Cross.
But this passage is not chiefly about our need to imitate Christ. We all have our limits. Very likely, if we learned of the murder of a close relative, we’d be of little help to others. None of us can expect to match the depth of Christ’s self-sacrifice.
But again, that’s not the chief point of this passage. Within this event, the example that ought to be our chief focus is not the response of Jesus, but the request of the crowds. The crowds seek out Jesus because they know that they are in need. But exactly what kind of need do they have?
Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear Him preach. But He knew the people in the crowds better than they knew themselves. Christ had a much deeper concern for their spiritual well-being. He had reminded them that their ancestors, whom God had fed in the desert by sending bread in the form of manna, had died. His divine Father, Jesus told them, had sent Him to be their spiritual bread which would allow them to live forever. If they would eat this bread by accepting Him and following His commandments, they could enter into God’s eternal kingdom of love.
In today’s First Reading, Isaiah says in the name of the Lord, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” This is the same message which Jesus conveyed to those people gathered near the Sea of Galilee. He brought His meaning home to them in a concrete way by giving them physical bread to satisfy their bodily hunger. But at the same time, He revealed that He was the spiritual bread which God had sent to bring them eternal life. His miracle used what was physical in order to point towards what is spiritual.
The crowds naturally had a spiritual hunger. Perhaps some of them were not even aware of this hunger inside their souls. Unfortunately, many of us today also are not aware of the hunger in our souls. Instead, we are distracted by many things such as our work, our leisure, and our possessions. We are worried about many things without giving heed to the one needful thing. Jesus, then, calls us first to recognize the greatest hunger in our lives, and then to seek the One who alone can fill it.
Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish by Ambrosius Francken I (1544–1618)