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Multiplication of the Loaves
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for all the ways you provide for me. Help me to have a magnanimous spirit and participate in your loving care for all. Give me a new vision to see with your heart.
- “He Said This to Test Them”: What a curious line in the Scriptures. It may easily pass by unnoticed! The evangelist understood in hindsight that Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do for these people, and yet he still asked his disciple Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Does Jesus do this in our life? Does he provoke the question, knowing the answer already? Why might he do this? Perhaps he desires to get us thinking about what he wants to do and how he is inviting us to participate in his magnanimous work? When life throws us a curveball, let us turn to Jesus and hear his question. In the question, also lies the answer: “I will provide. But you are my disciple. I wish you to participate in the way that I provide for my people.” This is magnanimity! We can exercise the greatness of spirit in our dignity as disciples of the Lord by listening to his question that reflects the desire of his heart. There lies the key to being a disciple—respond to the desire of his heart. What a simple, yet profound test this is—discover his heart!
- Obstacles versus Initiatives: Poor Philip saw only the obstacles involved in answering Jesus’s question. He lacked sufficient funds to feed all these people! It is impossible, thought Philip. Philip remained shortsighted and narrow-minded when attempting to answer Jesus’s question. He did not trust in the desire of Jesus’s heart. Andrew responded another way. Looking out to the crowd, as Jesus must have done, he saw the need and took a first responsive step. “The solution lies there, among them,” he thought. He didn’t know how five loaves and two fish would solve the entire problem, but at least they were a start. Let us learn a lesson from Andrew. We bring our five loaves and two fish to Jesus with hope that he will multiply our first response, albeit small and apparently insufficient for accomplishing the larger task.
- God’s Providential Plan: Jesus took Andrew’s initiative and provided an abundance of food. Twelve wicker baskets were filled from the leftovers of Jesus’s breaking of the bread. Twelve symbolizes the twelve tribes of Israel, the people chosen by God to preserve the worship of the one God. Twelve symbolizes the Apostles chosen by Jesus to be the foundation stones of his Church. Twelve also symbolizes the twelve thrones in the kingdom of heaven at the end of the age. Jesus asked the question, Andrew offered a simple response to the best of his abilities, and all was answered according to the desires of Jesus’s heart. Likewise, God knows how he will provide. He has the bigger picture and knows the ultimate goal of all of life’s circumstances that we may pass through. He is the bread of life who provides his Eucharist through the establishment of his Church. He sustains us in the journey towards the final judgment and ultimate entry into his kingdom prepared for the saints from the beginning of time. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, “God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan” (CCC 306).
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, bread of life, nourish me as a sojourner in this land of exile. Where I see want and obstacles, give me a new vision that sees your providence and invitation to faith. Where I see impossibility, give me a glimpse into your heart that nourishes hope and fosters charity.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will try to look at challenging circumstances as opportunities for faith, hope, and love.
For Further Reflection: What If We Saw Others through God’s Eyes?
Written by Jennifer Ristine.