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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Feeding of the Four Thousand

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.


Jesus normally uses a miracle to underline His teaching and to give proof that He truly is who He says He is, the Son of God. Think of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, when the Lord tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. Christ then turns to the Pharisees and says:

“Which is easier: to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.”


As magnificent as is this miracle, of course His greatest miracle, the Resurrection, is Christ’s ultimate vindication, because when Christ trampled down the gates of death and rose triumphant from the grave, He gave us proof positive that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. But in the miraculous multiplying of the loaves and fishes, what Our Lord shows us is the power of His compassion.


St. Mark’s account tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion for the hungry crowd that had been with Him for three days. Yes, the Divine Physician of our Souls is also concerned with our bodies! The picture in the miracle reflects the greater miracle that Christ worked in winning our salvation. He saw us in desperate need running towards our own destruction due to sin, and he pitied us. The Epistle of St. John proclaims that “we love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).


For if Our Blessed Lord was so moved to compassion for the body, which is perishing, how much more is our Lord moved with compassion for the soul, which is eternal? It is on this basis of true charity that God hears and answers our prayers. Christ’s compassion in this miracle becomes the root of our faith

and trust.



Notice in the Gospel the incapability of the multitudes to provide for themselves. Jesus says that they had been with Him for three days and that if they left without provision, they would faint, because they had come from afar. The people had followed Jesus into the wilderness, the desert, where there is no food. Christ teaches them that,

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).


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).


The feeding of the 4,000 is yet another proof that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. There are echoes of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness within the miracle. The story tells of miraculous bread, a deserted wilderness, and a big crowd of people. It should remind us how the people of Israel followed God in the wilderness who manifested Himself as a cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night. The Israelites only moved when the cloud moved. More so is that God fed them manna in the wilderness as they wandered for those forty years. God satisfied them with miraculous bread.

“From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread?”

Notice in the Gospel text that God is still the one providing bread; it is still miraculous; and it still satisfies, yet, we know a far greater miracle in the Holy Eucharist, where God does not show Himself in some cloud or pillar of fire, but rather God gives His own Body and Blood under appearances of bread and wine.



The Lord leads His people in person. He is the Good Shepherd. Our Lord is, as Saint Paul writes in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “a sympathetic high priest, one who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). God Himself now shares in our very nature. He was tempted; He experience hunger and thirst; He suffered a horrible crucifixion and death, and all for the sake of our salvation.


And so, Christ commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and He took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them. Our Lord uses a familiar form of words here. In them we see the foreshadowing of Christ’s words at the Last Supper and the prayer of consecration. This miraculous multiplication of mere bread anticipates the miracle of the Eucharist where the Bread of Heaven, Christ’s own flesh, would be multiplied and given for the life of the world.


In light of the miracle of the multiplication of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Communion, it only makes sense that the Lord would employ His disciples for the distribution to the multitude, and in the same vein it is that priests distribute Holy Communion and bring you the life-giving gift of the Eucharist, which our Lord wrought by His own divine power, since he promised that those who hungered for righteousness would be filled.


Dearly beloved in Christ, we are now in the wilderness. We live in the world and what a wild world it is! Like the ancient Israelites traveling through the barren wilderness with no food or water, save what God provided as they traveled towards the Promised Land, we now travel through the world, with all of its barren pomps and temptations, towards the heavenly realms, and we need a better manna, a better bread. We need the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Angels, to sustain us, lest we faint along the way.


As Israel ate the manna every day to live, so now we partake of the Lord’s Body and Blood. What a difference between these two breads. While the origin of the manna was miraculous, falling from the sky, it was still only bread. That bread could not save. The bread that Jesus multiplied in the miracle which we consider now was also miraculous and came from the very hands of the Lord himself, but it was still only bread.


Jesus even rebukes the crowds later in the Gospel and tells them to seek after the bread that does not perish. He even bluntly tells them that their ancestors who fed on manna died in the wilderness. Man needs a different bread. They need the Bread of Life, and those who feed on that supersubtantial Bread will never die. Our souls belong to the Lord and will live with Him forever in heaven.


Our Lord still has compassion upon us as He wills to work the same miracle as He once did this very day, but elevated and completed so He can satisfy your soul as well as your body. Perhaps, this is why Jesus performs the same miracle twice. Christ, our Eternal High Priest, will work that same miracle again, right now, but instead of only bread, no matter how miraculous its origin, Jesus gives us Heavenly Bread, that we might persevere in the faith unto the end and that we would not faint along the way.


I know where to get the Bread that satisfies, and it does not come from this wicked world. Your ultimate happiness and satisfaction does not and cannot come from earthly things. It can only come from God and through His Son, Jesus Christ. It can only come by the power of the Holy Ghost. It can only be appertained through faith. Abandon your sins. Stop eating the bread that this world tries to serve you—materialism, rebellion, anger, pride, and lust. Repent and give yourself to Jesus Christ. He will feed and sustain you as you press on towards resurrection and the new heavens and the new earth.


I know where to get the Bread that satisfies. It is the one Jesus brake for the forgiveness of sins and for the life of the world. I know where to get the Everlasting Bread that satisfies. It is here at the Altar where Christ stands ready to give you Himself that you might live, not as you once were, or even are today, but as a new creature remade after His likeness. You know where to get the bread that satisfies. Come and be fed.

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