Sunday, May 4, 2014

4 reasons why Jesus really miraculously fed a multitude of 5,000 men

Feeding the multitudes by Bernardo Strozzi,
early 17th century
In one of the Gospel stories, we read about Jesus feeding 5,000 men:
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. (Jn 6:1-15)
The common interpretation of this passage is that people already have food with them and that what Jesus did was to give an example on how to share one's food, and the people followed likewise.  Thus, there is no physical miracle that happened here.  The miracle was wrought in the hearts of the multitudes which made them more sharing towards their neighbors.

This interpretation has weak support from other scriptural passages for four reasons.

1. Manna and Quail in the Desert

The Gospel's passage is prefigured in the Old Testament where God wrought wonders by feeding the Israelites with Manna and quail in the desert (Ex 16).  If Jesus is God, then Jesus can also feed the Israelites through a miracle by multiplying 5 barley loaves and 2 fishes into food that can feed 5,000 men.

2. Prophet of Israel

To be declared a prophet in Israel, the people should recognize that you are from God through the signs and wonders that you perform.  For example, Elijah sent fire from the heavens and consumed his holocaust:
At the time for offering sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came forward and said, “LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 a Answer me, LORD! Answer me, that this people may know that you, LORD, are God and that you have turned their hearts back to you.” 38 The LORD’s fire came down and devoured the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and lapped up the water in the trench. 39 Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, “The LORD is God! The LORD is God!” (1 Kgs 18).   (1 Kgs 18:36-39)
Since the people proclaimed Jesus as a prophet by saying, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world," then Jesus must wrought an astonishing miracle before their eyes, just like the prophets of old.  Teaching people to share whatever they have is not a miracle worthy of the title of prophet.

3. King of Israel and Son of God

The Jews wanted to anoint Jesus as king, because of the signs that He performed, for these signs mean that He is the God's Anointed One or the Messiah, in the same way as David was anointed as king by God through the Prophet Samuel.  As God promised David through Prophet Nathan:
When your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He it is* who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. (2 Sam 7:12-14).
This scripture is fulfilled in Jesus, because Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God and heir of David's Throne.  As the Angel Gabriel said to Mary:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 n Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 o He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Lk 1:30-33)  
Remember that the House of David has been reduced to the Stump of Jesse, and Israel has no king for a very long time.  The claim of kingship must be accompanied by greater proofs beyond the capacities of mortal men, in the same way as Aragorn establishes his kingship not just by the material things he possess and the size of his followers, but also of his innate powers that belongs only to Kings of Gondor, such as healing and will power:
Then Gandalf said: 'Let us not stay at the door, for the time is urgent. Let us enter! For it is only in the coming of Aragorn that any hope remains for the sick that lie in the House. Thus spake Ioreth wise-woman of Gondor: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known. (Lord of the Rings, p. 862)

'You forget to whom you speak', said Aragorn sternly, and his eyes glinted. 'What do you fear that I should say to him? Did I not openly proclaim my title before the doors of Edoras? Nay, Gimli,' he said in a softer voice, and the grimness left his face, and he looked like one who has laboured in sleepless pain for many nights. 'Nay, my friends, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted. The strength was enough--barely.' (Lord of the Rings, p. 780)

'Is there anyone in this rout with authority to treat with me? he asked. 'Or indeed with the wit to understand me? Not thou at least!' he mocked, turning to Aragorn with scorn. 'It needs more to make king than a piece of Elvish glass, or a rablle such as this. Why, any brigand of the hills can show as good a following.!'
Aragorn said naught in answer, but he took the other's eye and held it, and for a moment they strove thus; but soon, though Aragorn did not stir or move hand to weapon, the other quailed and gave back as if menaced with a blow. 'I am a herald and ambassador, and may not be assailed!' he cried. (Lord of the Rings, pp. 888-889)

4. Bread of Life and the Holy Eucharist

The feeding of 5,000 is a prelude to the Bread of Life discourses of Jesus.  He told the crowd: "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled....." (Jn 6:26-27)  And Jesus continued:
I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”a 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54 Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.b 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. (Jn 6:48-58)
The feeding of the 5,000 is a miracle, which would pedagogically allow the Israelites to understand how Jesus would also miraculously give his Body and Blood to them through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist:
1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
But as the Jews told Jesus, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?”As a result of this, many of his disciples no longer accompanied him. (Jn 6:60-66)