Loaves & Fishes Bible Story
The Feeding of the 5,000 is also known as the “miracle of the five loaves and two fish”
Food provides us
nourishment, strength, healing, comfort and sheer delight
My prayer is that you will find
spiritual nourishment, strength, healing, comfort, and delight
in the Lord Himself who is the only true source of these very things.
“The disciples looked around, but all they could find were five loaves of bread and two small fish.
How can we feed five thousand people with that? The disciples asked Jesus.
Jesus blessed the food and started to divide it among the people & everyone ate their fill.
And when the disciples gathered what was left, they filled twelve baskets!”
given that the Gospel of John reports that five barley loaves and two small fish supplied by a boy were used by Jesus to feed a multitude. According to the Gospels, when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been killed, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place near Bethsaida. The crowds followed Jesus on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus said they did not need to go away therefore the disciples were to give them something to eat. They said they only had five loaves of bread and two fish, then Jesus asked them to bring what they had to him. Jesus directed the people to sit down in groups on the grass. In Mark’s Gospel the crowds sat in groups of 50 and 100, and in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ instructions were to seat the crowd in groups of 50, implying that there were 100 such groups.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, beside women and children
And that story, about the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish, that story seems to capture the essence of all the people involved.
That’s why it was told over and over again. This story captures the very essence of Jesus as the wondrous Son of God.
It captures the very essence of God, in God’s abundant and extravagant generosity and grace, twelve and seven baskets full of bread left over.
And it captures the very essence of us his disciples, who don’t get it, even after we have seen first hand, God’s miraculous work in our lives.
As a good rabbi, I would like to offer some commentary about this classic story.
Jesus can work miracles with five loaves and two fish. That is at the heart of the story, that the little boy brought his meager gifts to Jesus, his five loaves and two fish, and look what mighty miracles God did with them. And God wants to do the same with us; that we bring our meager gifts to God, our five loaves and two fish, our meager and ordinary talents and gifts, we bring the simplicity of who we are to God, and look what mighty miracles God can do with our little lives.
The key for me is that the little boy surrendered his meager gifts to Christ, and at the heart of the story today is the implied invitation for us to surrender our little gifts, the gift of our little lives to Christ, and then see what mighty miracles God can do in and through us. That’s what God wants from you and me, to surrender, to give the gifts of our little lives to him.
God can use your inadequacies and mine and work mighty miracles through them.
Implied in the story is this question: Have you surrendered your five loaves and two fish to Christ? Have you surrendered the meagerness of who you are to Christ? You would be amazed at what mighty miracles God can do with your meager self when you have surrendered who you are to Christ? The question is persistent when the memory of this story lingers on: “Have you surrendered? Have I?” Like the little boy did.
Sometimes people ask about this story: “How did he do it? How did Christ feed all those people with so little food, with merely five loaves and two fish?” I like what one commentator suggested: Some people want Jesus to work a transformation of the loaves, so that the loaves continually multiply, endlessly, so that the loaves themselves experience transformation and become an endless supply of bread.
But others suggest that what was really transformed were the selfish hearts of five thousand men; that when these five thousand men saw the example of the little boy giving Jesus his five loaves of bread and two fish, these men were inspired to look inside their coats and share the food that they brought with them, food that had been hidden inside their clothing. The real transformation then, was not of the loaves, but of five thousand selfish hearts. The Bible says: “A little child shall lead them.”
I ask you: which would be the greater miracle?
The transformation of the loaves
or the transformation of selfish hearts?
I would like to suggest to you that some people would prefer to focus on the transformation be of the loaves in order to avoid focusing on their own selfish hearts that need be transformed. Focus on the magic of it all in order to avoid the transforming miracle needed in my life and heart.
If Christ worked that miracle today, and transformed five thousand or five million selfish hearts, we would feed the whole world. Jesus said that Christians today would do greater miracles than he did when he was on earth; and if the selfish hearts of Christians were transformed, we would feed the entire globe. Focus on Christ’s transformation of selfish human hearts and you will discover the essence of this miracle.
But also, today, we need to talk about Holy Communion. In this passage, the liturgical references seem clear. Jesus took the bread…looked up to heaven… gave thanks (gave Eucharist)… broke the bread…gave it to his disciples…who gave it to everyone…and they all ate and were satisfied. These actions seem parallel to Holy Communion.
And then we read the Gospel of John’s version of this story, and we discover that the feeding of the five thousand is a prelude to Jesus’ teaching that “I am the Bread of life” and Holy Communion. In John, chapter six, we also find the most complete description of Holy Communion in the whole Bible. In John, chapter six, Christ says: “I am the Bread of life. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, I live in that person and that person lives in me.” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die but live forever.”
Incredible words. Incredible promises. And so the feeding of the 5000 in chapter six of John is a prelude to the teachings about Holy Communion. They are directly connected. For some of you, Holy Communion is a drag. You may be thinking in the recesses of your mind, “Holy Communion today? Oh no, the service will be fifteen minutes longer? Holy Communion today? Time to people watch and see who is and isn’t in church? Holy Communion today? O shucks. We’ll be late for…” But not for the early church. For those first Christians, the receiving of Our Lord’s Body and Blood was a miracle. THE miracle. The transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood! The transformation of selfish human hearts! Forgiveness? Never die? Live forever? Food for the soul? My soul? Food for the spirit, my spirit, the spirit in me, being fed by the Holy Spirit? O yes, it was sacred time, the miracle of Holy Communion.
And then, I am intrigued by the last twist to the story, the final surprise to the story. The disciples had personally witnessed the feeding of the five thousand, then personally witnessed the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:29-39, Mark 8:1-21), and then when they were alone, facing their own need, they asked the question among themselves: “Who brought bread? Who brought stuff for lunch?” (Matthew 16:5-12 The Yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees)
They didn’t get it.
They saw miracles for others
but didn’t understand it for themselves.
So often, I am just like that. I see the miracles of God first hand. I saw how God worked a miracle Jim Craig’s life who had a heart attack so in surgery, the surgeons could find an unknown aneurysm. Jim had been a walking time bomb. It was miracle for Jim, that he had a heart attack and the doctors then found that aneurysm.
I see God’s miracles. I see signs of God working and intervening in your lives, and then….when all alone by myself one night, I asked: “God, are you real? Is there really a God, a personal God, who watches over and participates in my life?” And I laugh at myself, having seen God’s miracles day by day, and I still question God’s existence and intervention in my own life.
Does this ring in a bell in you? Do you do the same? Seeing miracle after miracle in the lives of others, but then when it comes to you and your own life, you question and doubt God’s miraculous goodness to you? How human we are.
This story was the old favorite of the early church, told over and over again. Why?
Because it captured the essence of Jesus, the wondrous, loving Son of God.
It captured the essence of God’s abundant grace and generous gifts to us, with more than twelve baskets left over. It captured the essence of our lives, who having seen the miracles of God day by day, all around us, we still doubt and ask, “where is God’s action in my life?”