“People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
He said to them in reply, “Give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out they said, “Five loaves and two fish.” So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass.
The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to (his) disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. 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.
Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake.
He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (St. Mark 6:31-52)
By Deacon Keith Fournier
The first story in this biblical account is familiar, the feeding of the five thousand. It is recorded in all four gospels, emphasizing its significance. The second account immediately follows the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospel of St. Mark.
During the account of the miracle in Mark’s Gospel we are told that the disciples had encouraged Jesus to dismiss the crowd because – from their perspective – they simply could not feed these hungry people, even with two hundred days wages. They did not see the situation with the eyes of living faith. However, Jesus did – and He wants all who bear His name to learn to walk by the light of that faith.
In His Sacred Humanity, Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowd. The Greek root of the word means “to suffer with”. The disciples viewed the matter as a “problem”. They approached it through a lens of economic scarcity. Jesus understood the economy of heaven. The question He asks of all of us is – do we?
Jesus asked the disciples a simple question: “what do you have?” They did not understand. They had been invited to participate in God’s work by simply giving what they had in a Holy Exchange. When they finally did, Jesus used the matter given by men, five loaves and two fish, to manifest the manna of heaven.
The next day the instruction and the experience continued. We find them in the boat fishing. We find Jesus praying. Their placement in the “boat” in the story was a favorite image for the early church fathers, seen as a figure of the ark of the Old Covenant and the ark of the New Covenant, which is the Church.
It is this Church, this communion of persons joined in Jesus through Baptism, that He came to found and over which He would later install these men. Through them He would continue His redemptive mission. But first they had to “understand about the loaves”. This kind of understanding only comes from “communion” with the Father. It is the fruit of a living, dynamic and authentic faith.
Jesus invited the disciples to believe that when they have Him, they have everything. Yet, here in a storm, they fled to the familiar, the fear of the circumstances. So powerful were their fears that they prevented them from even recognizing God Incarnate as He passed right before them! They thought He was a ghost!
How crippling our own fears can become when we do not commune in prayer but rely on ourselves and our mere human effort. They had not “understood about the loaves”. Do we? We will live the way we love.
Faith is a light that is to preside over our entire lives, even during those storms that inevitably come. When it does, we see Jesus right there in the midst of the storm. We come to experience authentic peace, even in apparent turmoil and we learn to navigate the waters of daily life.
The Lord heard the cry of the poor as it issued from the mouths of his own disciples and He spoke these beautiful words: “Take Courage it is I: Don’t Be Afraid”. Today, let us hear these words and come to “understand the loaves”.