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How Many Loaves Do You Have? Living the Miracle of the Loaves Today

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In His Sacred Humanity, Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowd. The Greek root of the word for compassion 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 today 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, loaves and fish, to manifest the manna of heaven. He still does.

CHESAPEAKE,VA (Catholic Online) - It is my birthday; the last year of my fifth decade on this earth. As I have aged I have come to understand how wonderfully interwoven the Lord's message to us becomes in the stuff of our daily lives - when we have the eyes of living faith with which to see it and the ears open to hear Him speaking to us. I just read the Gospel of the day at Holy Mass, the account of the miracle of the loaves in the Gospel of St Matthew:

At that time: Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.  The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way." The disciples said to him, "Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?" Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they replied, "and a few fish."

He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.  They picked up the fragments left over-seven baskets full. (Matt. 15:29-37)

The miracle is recorded in all four gospels, emphasizing its significance. As is often the case, each of the four evangelists focuses on a particular aspect of the miracle in order to emphasize for the reader the significance and implication of the event in their own lives. St. Mark's account, set forth below, shows us its ongoing nature as it connects the miracle with the experience of the apostles immediately following the event in a way which is instructive for our own lives:  

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)

During this 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 same faith. He gives us the grace to do so, right now.  

In His Sacred Humanity, Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowd. The Greek root of the word for compassion 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 today 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, loaves and fish, to manifest the manna of heaven. He still does.

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, which He came to found and over which He would later install these men in apostolic office. It is this Church, of which we are members, which continues His redemptive mission until He returns.

That is why this lesson is so vitally important. The disciples needed to understand about the loaves- and so do we. This kind of understanding only comes from communion with the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit. 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. Like the disciples, we are invited to live our lives now in the Lord.  Faith is a light that is meant to preside over our entire lives, even during those storms that inevitably come. When it does, we will see Jesus right there in the midst of the storm. We will 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. We need to hear these words and learn to understand the loaves. Then, we need to let that understanding inform our daily lives. That understanding will open our eyes to see all of life differently. We can participate in the continuing miracle, beginning right now. 

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