The fifth loaf

Today’s gospel narrative continues that of last Sunday’s wherein Jesus is met by a vast crowd as he and his disciples reach the other side of the lake. Mark comments that Jesus’ heart is moved with pity at the sight, and he begins to teach the people. From hereon the story is picked up by the gospel of John.

For the next five Sundays, we shall be reading from Chapter 6 of John. The chapter opens with today’s familiar story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish. Enthralled by the miracle, the people want to make Jesus king which prompts him to flee to the mountain. Eventually, Jesus meets them again in Capernaum where he delivers his discourse on the “Bread of Life.”

The story of the multiplication of the bread is told in all four gospels each from the perspective of their corresponding evangelist. In Mark’s gospel, the people follow Jesus because they want to listen to him. In John, they follow him “because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.”

In his gospel, John records seven “signs” or miracles which reveal something of Jesus’ identity and mission. In the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish, the people recognize Jesus as the expected “Prophet” and the longed-for “King.” Their reading of the sign however fails to go far enough.

Jesus’ miracle far exceeds that of Elisha’s (first reading) who feeds 100 people with 20 barley loaves, leaving a few leftovers. Jesus instead feeds 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish and leaves 12 basketfuls of leftovers. The superabundance of the miracle however is a sign of a much greater gift. Jesus offers to give, not just bread in plenty, but life itself. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:19).

Likewise, the kingship eagerly wished by the people for Jesus is more than just that of a welfare state that provides the needs of his subjects. The miracle of the multiplication is a sign that points to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom and anticipates God’s ultimate plan when all will have “their fill.”

Like the crowd, we too tend to look to Jesus as an instant provider for our every need. We pray for quick healing, immediate solution, timely relief and all kinds of urgent requests (all good and valid, for sure), but miss his more important offer to allow him to enter our life and take charge. We will experience the true security we seek only when we are able to surrender our lives in his hands. “Jesus, take the wheel. Take it from my hands ’cause I can’t do this on my own. I’m letting go, so give me one more chance, and save me from this road I’m on.” (Underwood Carrie)

The gospel mentions a boy who offers his five loaves and two fish which Jesus blesses and distributes to feed all the people. How much God can do even with the little we have when given with generosity. God’s miracle does not start from nothing but from the little we share with love. As the gospel illustrates, everyone has the capacity to give, including the little and the poor.

Fr. Elsin, the parish priest of Tabugon, tells me that, despite the pandemic, their parish did not suffer financially because the people faithfully give their monthly pledge (tithe) even when they cannot come for Mass. The miracle of multiplication continues when everyone gives his/her share, however modest, in building the community.

On the floor of the Church of Tagbha, the site believed to be where the multiplication of the bread and fish was performed, there is a famous mosaic, commemorating the miracle. It depicts two fish with a basket containing four loaves of bread between them. It makes us wonder why there are only four loaves in the picture. I’d like to think that it is an invitation for us to offer ourselves as the fifth loaf so that in the hands of the Lord we too can be blessed, broken and distributed to feed many.*

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