Throughout the Scriptures bread and water, the staples of human sustenance, express our longing for God. In the words of the psalm: “The eyes of all creatures look to God for their food in due time. He opens wide his hand and grants the desires of all who live.” It is from this perspective that we should understand the miracles of feeding recorded in the Old Testament.
In the wilderness, through the intervention of his servant Moses, God fed his people with Manna from heaven. Elisha, prophet and man of God, multiplied the 20 loaves presented to him so as to feed a whole people. It was significant that the 20 loaves became an abundance: the people ate and had some left over. This abundance foreshadowed the Messianic banquet, the Prophet Isaiah’s symbol for the coming salvation that would attend the promised Messiah. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich good, a banquet of fine strained wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.”
As we hunger for food, so we hunger for the love and understanding, the forgiveness and peace that stills our hunger. It is in prayer, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we discern the hunger that leads to God.
St John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 identified Jesus as the fulfilment of the ancient promises. Together with the wedding feast at Cana, when water became wine, the multiplication of loaves initiated the banquet of salvation in the person of Jesus. The account began with the compassion of Jesus. He immediately identified himself with the hunger of the people. “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?”
The response of Philip underlined the futility of any undertaking that is not rooted in God: “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.”
Without their Lord, the disciples could never feed the multitude. Without Christ we cannot summon the faith, hope and love demanded of our lives. The little that the disciples had been able to gather, five barley loaves and two fish, was more than sufficient when surrendered to their Lord. The little that we have and are becomes an abundance in the hands of the Lord. “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to those who were sitting ready.”
The words with which Jesus blessed the bread echoed the words of consecration at the celebration of the Eucharist. We are reminded that we, like the multitudes coming to Jesus, bring our many needs to the celebration of the Mass. It is in our communion with the Lord, given in sacrifice, that we are fed and sustained. “When they had eaten enough Jesus said: ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing is wasted.’ So they picked them up and filled 12 hampers with the scraps left over.”
The Eucharist, like the feeding of the multitude, is the foretaste and anticipation of the abundant salvation that awaits those who trust in the Lord.