At the outset, presenting Jesus coming into the desert followed by a great multitude of people who abandoned the city, the evangelist wants us to see in him the new Moses.
The incident begins with the compassion of Jesus on the crowds. Com-passion, to suffer-together with the brothers is the force that leads Jesus to engage himself in building a new society. Only one who has mastered the sensitivity of this Master can be moved to intervene, to make his own, the same gestures of love. “Your attitude should be the same as the one Jesus Christ had” (Philippians 2:5)—Paul recommends. This urgent inner need to do good is the unmistakable sign of a disciple.
Jesus addresses, even the very mundane, urgent need of food and basic needs man. What is Jesus’ response to the hunger in the world? If a miracle is a solution, there would be no hunger today. Instead his gesture indicates what every disciple can and should do, so that no one lacks bread. He does not resolve the problem of hunger without the cooperation of man.
Our first, subtle temptation in the face of hunger is disengagement, that of wanting “to dismiss the crowd” so that each one makes one’s own arrangement, going to the villages to buy something to eat. It is the suggestion put forward by the disciples who, evidently, have not understood that adherence to Christ implies a concrete engagement with those who are in need. Jesus asks them, ”you give them something to eat.”
The difficulty, which is also ours, is immediately raised: that what we have is not sufficient. If everyone keeps selfishly for oneself what one has, for fear of shortage in the future, there will always be hunger in the world.
Jesus asks the disciples to give him what they have, even if it seems little to them. Five loaves and two fish — seven pieces of food — is the symbol of totality. Nothing is held back, the generosity should have no limits. The sharing of goods is Christ’s proposal. God the Father wants his children not to accumulate for themselves nor hoard the goods destined to all but share. When everyone will put at the disposal of others whatever one has (not only money, but one’s whole self, time, talents, intelligence, abilities …) one will witness a miracle: there will be food for everyone and leftover.
“Jesus took the loaves,” Matthew says, “and raised his eyes to heaven, pronounced the blessing and handed them to the disciples to distribute to the people.” These words are familiar to us. They are those of the Eucharist. The allusion to the Eucharistic banquet can never be sufficiently highlighted.
Five thousand men are fed. It is the number that symbolises Israel. After Israel will be satiated, twelve baskets of leftover are gathered.
Twelve indicates the new Israel, constituted by the twelve apostles around Christ. To this new people bread will not be lacking —(remember Jesus said, I am the bread of life) — there will always be a remainder to resume the distribution.
Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF