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The feeding of the five thousand

Gospel Reading: Mt 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.


The feeding story is rich in symbolism, and as Matthew tells it, the story stands as a fine expression of “the new and the old” in the Kingdom of heaven (cf Mt 13:52). In terms of the “old,” the account reminds the reader of the several Old Testament feeding stories, especially two. First, there is the Exodus story of the children of Israel and their wilderness experience. With the empty wasteland ahead of them, what lay behind them looked suddenly appealing. Egypt might have been the land of oppression and slavery, but it was also the land of the full stew pot and plentiful bread. The second “old” memory recalled is the story about the day a man brought an offering of a few loaves and some ears of grain to the prophet Elisha. There was famine at the time, but Elisha was able to feed about a hundred hungry people pressing around him (cf 2 Kgs 4:42-44). The “new” clearly connects to the Church’s experience of being fed by the risen Christ at the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. Just take note of the four verbs used, four liturgical actions having Eucharistic overtones: taking bread, blessing bread, breaking bread, and giving bread. They appear in the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper and in virtually all subsequent Christian Eucharistic liturgies.

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