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By Fr. Randy Sly

4/12/2013 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

What do you have?

The Feeding of the 5,000 appears in each of the Gospels. Jesus had sent the Twelve on their first missionary journey and upon their return began to relate all the wonderful things that had happened. About the same time John the Baptist was beheaded. Certainly, this seemed like a good occasion for a quiet retreat to be built up spiritually and get rested for the remaining opportunities for ministry.


By Fr. Randy Sly

Catholic Online (

4/12/2013 (3 years ago)

Published in Year of Faith

Keywords: Jesus, feeding, 5, 000, miracle, eucharist, evangelization, service, ministry

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Miracles always involve the impossible - otherwise they wouldn't be miracles! Impossible, however is a relative term. What may be an insurmountable obstacle to one person may well be within the realm of capability of another.

For a young father, simply having a drawer full of batteries may be all that is required to be a miracle worker in the eyes of his three year-old whose toy stopped working. The little boy's face was full of wonder when the lights and siren of his miniature fire engine were working once again.

A doctor, skilled in the medical arts, may seem like a miracle worker to a patient who is desperately trying to find relief from an ailment. "Oh, that doctor is a miracle worker!" she exclaimed.

Then there are the supernatural miracles - the ones where it requires divine intervention to bring about the solution. This is the kind we are dealing with in today's gospel.

Here, in John 6:1-15, we have the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Feeding that many people without adequate resources is quite a challenge, but the task increases in difficulty when you factor in that this is only the number of men, with the women and children an additional number!

The Feeding of the 5,000 appears in each of the Gospels. Jesus had sent the Twelve on their first missionary journey and upon their return began to relate all the wonderful things that had happened. About the same time John the Baptist was beheaded. Certainly, this seemed like a good occasion for a quiet retreat to be built up spiritually and get rested for the remaining opportunities for ministry.

Unfortunately, the people followed Jesus and the twelve as they crossed the Sea of Galilee and went up into the hills. As Matthew records, "there was a great throng and he had compassion on them." (Mt. 14:14)

In addition to the inconvenience - their time of retreat was ruined - the apostolic company had another problem. How are they going to take care of all these people, who obviously came without make any plans themselves on how or where they would eat?

As the time grew late, the disciples came to Jesus regarding the dilemma, suggesting that Jesus dismiss the crowd so they can go and take care of themselves. He, however, has other plans.

The Lord Likes to Begin Where We Are
"You give them something to eat." This imposing statement from Mark's account must have seriously rattled the disciples. In fact, Philip's estimate, in responding to Jesus question about buy enough bread, indicated that it would take about two-thirds of a year's wages to accomplish the work.

Often the Lord wants to show us that many of the problems we face are too big for us to handle. At the same time, he wants us to offer whatever resources we might have as a part of the solution.

Andrew, for example, responded to the same question from a different viewpoint. "There's a boy here with five barley loaves and two small fish." He must have thought that at least we can get started with what they had.

Many years ago I remember seeing a sign on the wall of a small business in our community that read, "We've been doing so much with so little for so long, that we are now able to do almost anything for nothing."

From that measly beginning, our Lord was able to feed the entire company and have twelve baskets of fragments left over.

In the economy of the kingdom, this is how it always seems to begin. When Moses was facing the daunting task of leading the children of Israel, God asked him a question. "What do you have in your hand?" God took that rod as unique point of contact with the power of God manifesting on the earth. As Scripture later declared that the Rod of Moses had become the Rod of God.

One thing needs to be said about God's intervention, it cannot be reduced to a mere formula. For example, if we had ten loaves and four fish, would we be able to feed 10,000 people?

This becomes clear in another feeding account where Jesus feeds 4,000. Here he uses seven loaves and a few (more than two) fish. Obviously, it is not about proportion but God's intervention!

In one of his Angelus messages from last July, Pope Benedict stated, The miracle was not worked from nothing, but from a first modest sharing of what a simple lad had brought with him. Jesus does not ask us for what we do not have.

Rather, he makes us see that if each person offers the little he has the miracle can always be repeated: God is capable of multiplying our small acts of love and making us share in his gift.

Fr. Fernandez, in his great series In Conversation with God, writes, [Our Lord] does not wish us to remain without doing anything if the instruments which we have at our disposal are insufficient or even scarce. Jesus asks us for faith, obedience, daring and always to do whatever we can; not to omit using any human means that is available to us and at the same time to count on him, conscious that our possibilities will always be very small.

Don't wait until we have all the human means, don't wait till all difficulties disappear. On the supernatural plane there is always fruit: Our Lord sees that; He blesses our efforts and He multiplies them.

When we see God's working in our lives at various points, we can easily proclaim with St. Paul his great doxology from Ephesians, Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20, 21)

Great Works Begin with Thanksgiving
This miraculous feeding has always been seen by the Church Fathers as an image of the Eucharist. Using a familiar formula for Jewish tradition, there is the breaking of the bread and the giving of thanks. The Greek work for "thanksgiving" is eucharisteo, where we get our word "Eucharist."

In this great miracle of feeding, as in the Last Supper and, in fact, every Jewish prayer of blessing over food, thanksgiving precedes the meal.

Giving thanks is something that I learned as a child. Whenever someone would give me a treat or a gift, my parents would always remind me, "Now, be sure to say 'thank you!" And I would.

Unfortunately, we can easily get to the point where we are only thankful when things go well. We hold our thanks for a goody or gift.

In the economy of the Kingdom of God, thanksgiving is the platform upon which we base our actions. We begin with thanks, knowing that he is able to do that "exceeding abundant" work we proclaimed from Ephesians.

St. Paul told the Thessalonians, to Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thess. 5:16-18)

When we are facing our challenges, this is the time to offer thanksgiving, recognizing that the Lord is our source for what we are about to encounter. We can't operate on conditional thanksgiving.

The feeding of the 5,000 was more than a dinner miracle to impress the gathering. It provided a connection to God's provision of Israel during their wilderness wandering with Moses. I opened the door for Jesus to move the discussion beyond manna to the Messiah and his present ministry as the bread of life.

In addition, Jesus is giving each of us an invitation to live a life of multiplication, taking what we have and trusting ourselves to Him. This begins with offering to God what we have and then give him thanks for what he is about to do.

In May of 1982, Blessed John Paul II appeared at Murrayfield Rugby Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland to address the 40,000 youth that had gathered to greet him. His challenge that day, was built on this great miracle of our Lord.

Saint Andrew gave Jesus all there was available, and Jesus miraculously fed those five thousand people and still had something left over. It is exactly the same with your lives.

Left alone to face the difficult challenges of life today, you feel conscious of your inadequacy and afraid of what the future may hold for you. But what I say to you is this: place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you, and bless you, and he will make such use of your lives as will be beyond your greatest expectations!

In other words: surrender yourselves, like so many loaves and fishes, into the all-powerful, sustaining hands of God and you will find yourselves transformed with "newness of life", with fullness of life.


Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter ( established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.


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