The Bread: A Sign of God’s Compassion
Paris, July 31, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) Bread of Life: Bread of heaven and bread of the earth.
This Sunday’s Gospel, with the narration of the multiplication of the loaves, shows the loving compassion of Christ towards humanity. Jesus performed this act of charity towards a multitude of people who had followed him to hear him and to be healed from various diseases (cf. Mt 14:14).
Before contemplating the scene of today’s Gospel, let’s identify ourselves with the disciples of Jesus, happy to walk with Him while he is traveling on the roads of Galilee bringing the Gospel and doing the works of the Kingdom, works of mercy done by a King close to his people. Today Jesus shows his divine kingship by removing one of the obstacles that imprison man: hunger. And because one of the signs of the Kingdom of Heaven is abundance, he multiplies the five loaves to such an amount that twelve full baskets remained.
To better understand the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes we should bear in mind a fact which is often not careful considered: the parable of the seed of the Word (Mt 13, 1-23) and the one of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes are in the same context. Christ “administers” a dual Bread, the one “made” of the spirit, the Word, and the one of the body, made of wheat.
Let’s behold the scene of today’s Gospel. We are at the sunset of a day spent by a multitude of people feeding on the word of Christ to heal the body and nourish the spirit so the disciples suggest to Jesus to tell the crowd to go in search of food to feed their body.
The advice of the friends of the Messiah is born from human common sense and attention to the needs of the people. The Lord does not dispute the recommendation of the disciples, but gives them a command that is, humanly speaking, strange: “Give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16).
The human common sense urges the disciples to argue that they have “only five loaves and two fish.” The Redeemer then makes a gesture that makes us think of the sacrament of the Eucharist: “He raised his eyes to heaven, said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples to the crowd” (Mt 14:19). The miracle consists in the fraternal sharing of few loaves which, entrusted to the power of God, not only are enough for everyone, but are even so abundant to have twelve full baskets left over. The Lord urges the disciples to distribute the bread to the crowd themselves. In doing so He instructs them and prepares them for their future apostolic mission: they will in fact bring to all the nourishment of the Word of Life, the Bread of eternal and earthly life.
In this wonderful gesture the incarnation of God and the work of redemption intertwine. In fact, Jesus “descends” from the boat to meet men (cf. Mt 14:14). Here the Lord gives us a good example of his compassion for the people. The many brothers and sisters that daily suffer the dramatic consequences of famine, aggravated by war and the lack of robust and reliable institutions come to our minds. Christ is attentive to material needs, but wants to donate more because man is always “hungry for something more, he needs something more” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Milan 2007, 311). In the bread of Christ, the love of God is present. In the encounter with Him “we eat, so to speak, of the same living God. We truly eat the” bread from heaven “(Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Milan 2007, 311).
“In the Eucharist Jesus makes us witnesses of God’s compassion for every brother and sister. Around the Eucharistic mystery the service of charity towards neighbor is born “(Apostolic Exhortation. Post-sin. Sacramentum Caritatis, 88). St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus testifies that. Ignatius chose to live “by seeking God in all things, loving Him in all creatures” (see Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, III, 1, 26). Let’s entrust our prayer to the Virgin Mary so that she opens our hearts to compassion for others and to fraternal sharing. Let’s call upon Our Heavenly Mother to always make us truly poor in spirit so as to find again the true taste of bread.
2) Bread of heaven that in the Eucharist becomes bread of men (Don Primo Mazzolari).
“The Host, like the Cross, are arms and hearts that meet. When I raise the bread, I exalt the love of God and the human endeavor. I carry the works of my hard-working people in the heart of the Lord, who gives them shelter and rest… Man has met You in the bread, even before that You made it for us Bread of Life “(Don Primo Mazzolari).
We too ask what we need to do to have true life. Jesus replies: believe in me. Faith is the essential thing. It is not a matter of following an idea or a project, but of meeting Jesus as a living Person, of getting involved totally in Him and in his Gospel. Therefore, “Jesus invites us not to stop to human horizon but to open ourselves to God’s horizon, to the horizon of faith. He demands only one work: to accept God’s plan, that is, to “believe in the one whom he has sent.’ Moses had given Israel manna, the bread from heaven, with which God himself had fed his people in the desert. Jesus does not give something, he gives Himself: He is the ‘true bread that came down from heaven,’ He is the Living Word of the Father, and it is in meeting Him that we meet the living God. ”
We feel inclined to ask, “What must we do for the miracle of the bread to continue?”
But let’s not forget that Jesus, the true bread of life that satisfies our hunger for meaning and truth, cannot be ‘earned’ by human labor; He comes to us only as a gift of God’s love, as the work of God to be asked and received.
During the week the days are full of occupations and concerns, but on Sunday, the day of the Lord and also a day of rest and relaxation, the Lord invites us not to forget that if we need to worry about the material bread and to restore our strength, it is even more fundamental to grow our relationship with Him and to strengthen our faith in the One who is the ‘bread of life’ that fills our desire for truth and love.
We just have to pray to Our Lady so that this holy desire for the good life becomes in us prayer and work.
3) The Virginity and Eucharist: the passionate Love.
A very beautiful and spiritually effective way to multiply the bread is the one of the Virgins consecrated in the world.
With the complete gift of themselves to God, they become as hosts for the world, with whom they want to share Christ, the Bread of Life, donated in abundance.
Immersed in a world often agitated and distracted, sometimes engaged in heavy and not always pleasant tasks, the consecrated Virgins are called to witness with joy to the men and women of our time, in different situations, that the Lord is the Love able to fill the heart of the human being. They testify that the cross to take upon oneself every day to follow Christ is not made by the sufferings and contradictions of life, as by the passionate love of Christ, lived as self-giving love to the Redeemer, and compassion and sharing with the brothers and sisters in humanity. In this way, these women realize the prayer that the Bishop pronounces on the day of their consecration: “May they burn in love and do not love anything outside You… May they fear You with love and by love serve You” (Rite the Consecration of Virgins, n. 64) in prayer and works of mercy.
Golden Chain (Catena Aurea) on Mt 14,15-21g
Chrys.: It is a proof of the faith of these multitudes that they endured hunger in waiting for the Lord even till evening; to which purpose it follows, “And when it was evening, his disciples came unto him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past.”
The Lord purposing to feed them waits to be asked, as always not stepping forward first to do miracles, but when called upon. None out of the crowd approached Him, both because they stood in great awe of Him, and because in their zeal of love they did not feel their hunger. But even the disciples do not come and say, Give them to eat; for the disciples were as yet in an imperfect condition; but they say, “This is a desert place.” So that what was proverbial among the Jews to express a miracle, as it is said, “Can he spread a table in the wilderness?” (Ps 78,19) this also He shews among his other works.
For this cause also He leads them out into the desert, that the miracle might be clear of all suspicion, and that none might suppose that any thing was supplied towards the feast from any neighbouring town. But though the place be desert, yet is He there who feeds the world; and though the hour is, as they say, past, yet He who now commanded was not subjected to hours. And though the Lord had gone before His disciples in healing many sick, yet they were so imperfect that they could not judge what He would do concerning food for them, wherefore they add, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns, and buy themselves food.” Observe the wisdom of the Master; He says not straightway to them, ‘I will give them to eat;’ for they would not easily have received this, but, “Jesus said to them, They need not depart, Give ye them to eat.”
Jerome: Wherein He calls the Apostles to breaking of bread, that the greatness of the miracle might be more evident by their testimony that they had none.
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 46: It may perplex some how, if the Lord, according to the relation (p. 533) of John, asked Philip whence bread was to be found for them, that can be true which Matthew here relates, that the disciples first prayed the Lord to send the multitudes away, that they might buy food from the nearest towns. Suppose then that after these words the Lord looked upon the multitude and said what John relates, but Matthew and the others have omitted. And by such cases as this none ought to be perplexed, when one of the Evangelists relates what the rest have omitted.
Chrys.: Yet not even by these words were the disciples set right, but speak yet to Him as to man; “They answered unto Him, We have here but five loaves and two fishes.” From this we learn the philosophy of the disciples, how far they despised food; they were twelve in number, yet they had but five loaves and two fishes; for things of the body were contemned by them, they were altogether possessed by spiritual things. But because the disciples were yet attracted to earth, the Lord begins to introduce the things that were of Himself; “He saith unto them, Bring them hither to me.”
Wherefore does He not create out of nothing the bread to feed the multitude with? That He might put to silence the mouth of Marcion and Manichaeus, who take away from God His creatures, (margin note: i.e. deny that God created the visible world) and by His deeds might teach that all things that are seen are His works and creation, and that it is He that has given us the fruits of the earth, who said in the beginning, “Let the earth bring forth the green herb;” (Gn 1,11) for this is no less a deed than that. For of five loaves to make so many loaves, and ashes in like manner, is no less a thing than to bring fruits from the earth, reptiles and other living things from the waters; which shewed Him to be Lord both of land and sea.
By the example of the disciples also we ought to be taught, that though we should have but little, we ought to give that to such as have need. For they when bid to bring their five loaves say not, Whence shall we satisfy our own hunger? but immediately obey; “And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took they five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven blessed them, and brake.”
Why did He look to heaven and bless? For it should be believed concerning Him that He is from the Father, and that He is equal with (p. 534) the Father. His equality He shews when He does all things with power. That He is from the Father He shews by referring to Him whatsoever He does, and calling upon Him on all occasions.
To prove these two things therefore, He works His miracles at times with power, at other times with prayer. It should be considered also that in lesser things He looks to heaven, but in greater He does all with power. When He forgave sins, raised the dead, stilled the sea, opened the secrets of the heart, opened the eyes of him that was born blind, which were works only of God, He is not seen to pray; but when He multiplies the loaves, a work less than any of these, He looks up to heaven, that you may learn that even in little things He has no power but from His Father.
And at the same time He teaches us not to touch our food, until we have returned thanks to Him who gives it us. For this reason also He looks up to heaven, because His disciples had examples of many other miracles, but none of this.
Jerome: While the Lord breaks there is a sowing of food; for had the loaves been whole and not broken into fragments, and thus divided into a manifold harvest, they could not have fed so great a multitude. The multitude receives the food from the Lord through the Apostles; as it follows, “And he gave the loaves to hie disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
Chrys.: In doing which He not only honoured them, but would that upon this miracle they should not be unbelieving, nor forget it when it was past, seeing their own hands had borne witness to it. Therefore also He suffers the multitudes first to feel the sense of hunger, and His disciples to come to Him, and to ask Him, and He took the loaves at their hands, that they might have many testimonies of that which was done, and many things to remind them of the miracle.
From this that He gave them, nothing more than bread and fish, and that He set this equally before all, He taught them moderation, frugality, and that charity by which they should have all things in common. This He also taught them in the place, in making them sit down upon the grass; for He sought not to feed the body only, but to instruct the mind.
But the bread and fish multiplied in the disciples’ hands; whence it follows, “And they did all eat, and were (p. 535) filled.”
But the miracle ended not here; for He caused to abound not only whole loaves, but fragments also; to shew that the first loaves were not so much as what was left, and that they who were not present might learn what had been done, and that none might think that what had been done was a phantasy; “And they took up fragments that were left, twelve baskets full.”
Jerome: Each of the Apostles fills his basket of the fragments left by his Saviour, that these fragments might witness that they were true loaves that were multiplied.
Chrys.: For this reason also He caused twelve baskets to remain over and above, that Judas might bear his basket. He took up the fragments, and gave them to the disciples and not to the multitudes, who were yet more imperfectly trained than the disciples.
Jerome: To the number of loaves, five, the number of the men that ate is apportioned, five thousand; “And the number of them that had eaten was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
Chrys.: This was to the very great credit of the people, that the women and the men stood up when these remnants still remained.
Hilary: The five loaves are not multiplied into more, but fragments succeed to fragments; the substance growing whether upon the tables, or in the hands that took them up, I know not.
Raban.: When John is to describe this miracle, he first tells us that the passover is at hand; Matthew and Mark place it immediately after the execution of John. Hence we may gather, that he was beheaded when the paschal festival was near at hand, and that at the passover of the following year, the mystery of the Lord’s passion was accomplished.
Jerome: But all these things are full of mysteries; the Lord does these things not in the morning, nor at noon, but in the evening, when the Sun of righteousness was set.
Remig.: By the evening the Lord’s death is denoted; and after He, the true Sun, was set on the altar of the cross, He filled the hungry. Or by evening is denoted the last age of this world, in which the Son of God came and refreshed the multitudes of those that believed on Him.
Raban.: When the disciples ask the Lord to send away the multitudes that they might buy food in the towns, it signifies the pride of the Jews towards the multitudes of the Gentiles, whom they judged rather fit (p. 536) to seek for themselves food in the assemblies of the Pharisees than to use the pasture of the Divine books
Hilary: But the Lord answered, “They have no need to go,” shewing that those whom He heals have no need of the food of mercenary doctrine, and have no necessity to return to Judaea to buy food; and He commands the Apostles that they give them food. Did He not know then that there was nothing to give them?
But there was a complete series of types to be set forth; for as yet it was not given the Apostles to make and minister the heavenly bread, the flood of eternal life; and their answer thus belongs to the chain of spiritual interpretation; they were as yet confined to the five loaves, that is, the five books of the Law, and the two fishes, that is, the preaching of the Prophets and of John.