The Feeding of the Multitude

Today’s Gospel reading is St. Mark’s account of the feeding of the multitude. This is in some ways one of the more difficult miracle stories for the modern mind, yet, interestingly, it is the only miracle story recorded in all four Gospels (and in two of the Gospels – Mark and Matthew – it is recounted twice, albeit in slightly different form).

We are told that Jesus was teaching a large crowd in a deserted place. When Jesus’ disciples tell him to dismiss the crowds so they can go to buy something to eat, Jesus tells them to feed the crowd themselves. They sensibly point out that they lack sufficient resources to buy enough food to feed all those people. When Jesus asks what they have, they tell him they have five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus blessed the loaves and the fish and gave them to his disciples to distribute. Mark tells us “They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. Those who ate of the loaves were five thousand men.”

What happened that day? Did Jesus literally feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? Some scholars suggest that Jesus and his disciples distributed the little food they had and that the crowd was prompted by their example to share what they had, and that the pooled resources were enough to feed everyone. (That explanation resonates with me, as I had an experience in prayer one day while engaged in Ignatian contemplation where that is exactly what I saw.) Others suggest that everyone got merely a morsel, symbolizing the heavenly banquet that was to come.

As I reflected on the passage, I came to the conclusion that the specific explanation doesn’t really matter. We can’t know exactly what happened that day, but it is clear that something happened. People came to hear Jesus and came away fully satisfied – physically and spiritually. They sat listening to him, so wrapped up on what he was teaching that they did not think about their evening meal or where it would come from. (One gets the sense that had the disciples not said anything, the crowds would have just continued to sit there listening to Jesus.) What they received from Jesus was enough to satisfy their hunger.

Ultimately, only Jesus satisfies our hunger….and He does so completely.