Fr. Scott A. Haynes
In the Gospels there are two accounts of Christ multiplying loaves and fishes: the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. Why two accounts? What is the difference between them? The obvious answer: 1,000. All joking aside, there is a salient difference—location. As they say in real estate, what matters is, location, location, location.
The feeding of the 5,000 took place near Bethsaida, close to the Sea of Galilee. In contrast, the feeding of the 4,000 took place in the region of the Gerasenes, in the region around the Decapolis. These are two very different regions. What is the significance? The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 was in a Jewish territory, while the miraculous feeding of the 4,000 took place in Gentile territory.
In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus takes five loves and feeds five thousand, which recalls the five books of the Jewish Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Not only that, but when everyone had finished eating, twelve baskets of left-overs were collected, which signifies the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the feeding of the 4,000, seven loaves were miraculously multiplied. After everyone has had his fill, seven basketfuls of leftovers are collected. The number seven is symbolic of completeness and the number seven is evocative of the seven days of creation when God created all humanity. Both miracles show the provision of the Lord, His love for all His people, Jew and Gentile alike. In these miracles Jesus feeds them with miraculous bread, in preparation for the day when He would feed them sacramentally with own Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.
Our Lord Jesus Christ stamped peculiar force upon the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish, as he worked this same miracle twice, firstly for a Jewish audience and then for a multitude of Gentiles. In this, God gives a hint about His cosmic plan to redeem all mankind and restore creation to Himself, which makes this miracle all the more wonderful, and could explain why our Lord takes time to work it twice.
The crowd followed Jesus into the wilderness because they hungered to hear the truth. They craved His teaching and lived upon His very word. In turn, the people became dependent upon Him to deliver them home without fainting from hunger. Then the disciples ask the million-dollar question,
“How will anyone be able to satisfy these with bread, here in a desert?”
The rhetorical question of the disciples is meant to have one answer, and the disciples are not wrong.
“From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread?”
Well, a mere man could not do it, but,
“With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).