During this evening’s Vigil Mass the Gospel reading was from John 6:1-15. In it we hear of just one of the miracles of the loaves and fishes where our Lord feeds five thousand people with only five barley loaves and two fish. After all of the people finish eating enough fragments are gathered to fill twelve baskets. The people then say that Jesus is the prophet (mentioned in Deuteronomy) and want to make him a king.
I’ve heard that there are some who believe that this event wasn’t really a miracle. Some people believe that the crowd just happened to have food that they were already carrying and began sharing it with one another. They say that perhaps there is some other explanation to explain how five thousand people were fed.
As I read this passage there is no indication that it was anything else but a miracle. It says that a large crowd followed him due to the signs he was performing. To me this is important as it shows that they were already aware that he was responsible for genuine miracles which they were clearly seeing.
Next, after he receives this small amount of food he gives thanks and distributes them among these five thousand people. After this enough fragments remained to fill twelve baskets. There is no indication in any of these accounts that some other food sources became known and were utilized. In fact, if there was a natural explanation for this surplus of food it surely would have been documented in at least one of the accounts of these events. Had there been a natural explanation for the extra food the people would not have wanted to make him a king. They wanted to do this as they recognized him as the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and they believed this as they associated the miracle they had just witnessed with the miracle of the manna. They sincerely believed that the distribution of the manna was a true miracle and not something that could be explained as a natural phenomenon. If Jesus and his disciples had found other resources for food the crowd would hardly have made the connection with this distribution of food to the miracle of the manna. If their food had been distributed from other natural, ordinary sources they would not have believed that he was a prophet and would not have wanted to make him a king. Jesus is the new Moses and they definitely understood this. I would also add that the Eucharist is even a greater miracle as our Lord continues this miracle by distributing his own body and blood to countless numbers of people under the appearances of bread and wine. If we even suggest that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is anything but a true miracle I believe that it undermines not only the miracle of the manna in the Old Testament but the miracle of the Eucharist as well.
Many thanks to Steve Ray for writing his excellent article “Loaves And Fishes” which gave me many of the ideas for this post and gave me a clearer understanding of this issue.