3rd December – Memorial of St Francis Xavier

It may come as a surprise to those who have not studied theology that many liberal scholars and thinkers deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles in the gospels. For them they are parable-like stories that convey a meaning. It even extends to Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead and the Virgin Birth. This Bible Alive commentary reflects on this issue in the context of today’s gospel passage Matt 15:29-37.

Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel.

But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been withfeeds-50002 me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.

Matthew has two accounts of Jesus feeding a huge crowd of people (see also 14:13-21). The two accounts, whilst similar on the major detail (the feeding of a multitude), differ on the minor. Were there seven or five loaves? Were there seven or twelve baskets of leftovers? And precisely how many people were present — was it 4,000 or 5,000? Why are there two accounts of the same miracle?

Scholars are not entirely sure but it is likely that the two accounts record the same event. The Gospel stories, whilst entirely authentic eyewitness accounts, were passed down through an oral tradition and, rather like first-hand witness accounts of anything (an accident, a historical event), some of the detail gets lost in this process. What is not in doubt is that this was a miracle in which Jesus miraculously multiplied bread and fish in order to feed a multitude of hungry people. Rather like the changing of water into wine at Cana (John 2), the feeding of the multitudes highlights God’s care and concern for our physical as well as spiritual needs.

Did this miracle happen? Or was it, as some Scripture scholars suggest, a miracle of sharing in which, overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus and his witness of love and service, a huge crowd of hungry and harassed people decided to share their bread and fish with each other [that they had previously concealed]?

Thankfully the Church has always resisted any attempt to give a rational explanation of Jesus’ miracles. The Evangelists are authentic and reliable witnesses we can trust in completely. Jesus, the Son of God, performed miracles through the power invested in him by his heavenly Father. The Church, however, has always sought to seek out the deeper meaning behind the ‘signs’ of Jesus and sees in this miracle a foretaste of the gift of the Eucharist (CCC 1335). We do not live on bread alone. Our needs are deep and complex. Jesus meets these needs, comforts us and brings us the consolation of the Spirit in the gift we know as the Bread of Heaven, the Living Body of Christ, the Eucharist.

[It is interesting to note the parallels between this feeding account (see above) and the Last Supper. At the Last Supper he too TAKES bread, GAVE THANKS, BROKE the bread and then GAVE it to his disciples.]

‘The Eucharist is a precious nourishment for faith: an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself.’ (Lumen Fidei 44)

Odie’s dilemma about nutrition is very practical!