What Happened in That Deserted Place?

Today’s Gospel is one of two versions by St. Mark of the feeding of the multitude. This miracle is the only one recounted on all four Gospels and the only one recorded twice by both Mark and Matthew, although the accounts vary.

What are we to make of this? In A Marginal Jew (vol 2), John Meier writes:

What, more precisely, happened at this memorable meal of fellowship among Jesus and his followers by the Sea of Galilee has been a subject of great speculation, some highly imaginative, by modern exegetes. Some have suggested that Jesus and his disciples shared what little food they had with others, thus prompting the rest of the crowd (especially the rich among them) by their good example to a similar sharing of their supplies until all were fed. Truly imaginative is the suggestion of other critics that Jesus had supplies of food hidden in a cave, whence his disciples passed him helpings to distribute to the crowd. Albert Schweitzer gave his own twist to these attempts at reconstruction, emphasizing the tense eschatological expectation of both Jesus and his followers. In this highly charged atmosphere, Jesus gave everyone in the crowd a morsel of bread as a symbol of the heavenly banquet about to come; the meal was thus “the antitype of the messianic feast…a sacrament of redemption.”

Meier goes on to say that the available sources do not allow one to be specific about what actually happened and that any determination “will ultimately depend on one’s worldview, not on what purely historical investigation can tell us about the event.”

I don’t know what actually happened that day. But one thing is clear: people were hungry and they were fed by Christ. I’m not sure I need more than that.


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