Saturday, July 30, 2011

The multiplication of loaves: What if it were only a matter of people sharing?, or Why it had to be a miracle


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 14:13-21
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.
It is well known how the modernist and rationalist interpreters of Sacred Scripture will attempt to twist the multiplication of the loaves (indeed, we should say “multiplications”, since Jesus did this more than once) from a miracle into an instance of sharing.
“It wasn’t a miracle,” they tell us. “Or, rather, the miracle was that our Lord got the people to share!” Now, I don’t intend here to point out that such “scholars” have little understanding of the Gospels – how the event is clearly related as a miracle, how the crowds (according to St.  John) wanted to make Jesus a political King on account of the fact that he could solve all their material problems with his power, how our Savior himself reminds the Apostles that he had fed the multitudes with only some loaves and a few fish (remember, he was with them on the boat and told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees).
I could do all this, many have done so before – it is the very necessary project of apologetics (the first phase of theology). However, I wish to consider the multiplication according to the higher science of theology proper: What would it mean if this were only a case of sharing? And, What did Christ tell us when he worked this great miracle?

If it was only sharing, to hell with it
When modernists claim that this is only a story about sharing, they are telling us that Christ only gave out the five loaves (or the seven loaves) and that various individuals in the crowd provided the rest. The idea would be that, inspired by the example of Christ (or, even, by the example of the young boy who gave our Savior the bread and fish), certain unnamed persons among the multitude who had hidden away some portion of food decided then to share these reserves with others.
We need not point out how ridiculous a thought it is that the crowd – who, we are told, were on the point of exhaustion and had no reserves – could be more than satiated by a handful of persons sharing a few little treats. Rather, let us consider what the theology of the event would be, if the multiplication were really only about sharing.
If the “miracle” were only that people learned to share, then it would not be Christ who fed the crowd; rather, the crowd would have fed itself. The people would not have received the bread from Christ’s hand (and through the mediation of the Apostles), but they would have provided bread for themselves. Our Savior would only be a “moral cause” of their being fed, he would not have actually fed them himself.
Now, consider that this event is really telling us about how Christ feeds and sustains his Church. If the crowd simply shared (and fed themselves), what would this say about the Church? It would mean that the Church does not rely on Christ (except insofar as he is a moral example from 2000 years ago), but rather she provides for herself and guides herself.
Indeed, most of the modernist interpreters would delight in this conclusion – they have long ago thrown off the yoke of Christ and made themselves rather slaves of the world and its fashions (preferring darkness to light, and slavery to freedom).
The would-be-followers of Christ who “feed themselves” and who “share amongst each other” are those who foment against the Church and her Tradition, who join together in groups calling for radical change (consider those impious bands who demand women’s ordination and approval of same-sex “marriage”). These indeed do not receive the true bread from Christ our God, but only share their meager “treats” amongst themselves.
The Savior feeds his flock through his priests
But, if we accept that the multiplication is a miracle, we quickly recognize the theology behind the actions: Christ continues throughout the centuries to miraculously feed and sustain his Church. Even when we are in the desert, when the Church seems to be on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion – especially then, the Savior provides for his Bride.
First and foremost, the “bread” is the Eucharist and the other sacraments. It is also the illumination of the hierarchy in matters of faith and morals. Moreover, we may well say that the “bread” is the saints who are a shining light for the whole world.
What is more, we notice that our Lord does not give the bread to the crowds immediately, but he gives the bread to the Apostles and commands them to feed the crowds. Our Savior sustains his Church through her priests, and especially through the Pope and the bishops united to him.
The faithful in the Church are not left to feed themselves, but Christ continues to care for all his children through the ministry of the successors of his Apostles.

20 comments:

Ivo Cerckel said...

Is the same reasoning applicable to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, passing through with a wall of water on either side (Exodus 13:17-14:29)?
It was indeed Moses, at God’s command, and not the winds that parted the Red Sea?
God allows us to pass through our earthly pilgrimage?

The Pinoy Catholic said...

Great blog post Father! Can I repost in my blog?

araceli lorayes said...

Thank you for this post. A few months ago, one of our assistant parish priests in his homily also said that there was no miracle; only sharing. My first reaction was the same as yours - if it was not a miracle, to hell with it. My second reaction was to think -well, if that incident was some kind of hyperbolic narration of the apostles, then what is to keep us from believing in the accounts of the death of Jesus and his Resurrection as true? We might as well believe as the Muslims do - that he didn't die on the Cross, but was spirited away by His followers.

Araceli

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@The Pinoy Catholic,
You are certainly welcome to repost (with credits of course).
My own preference would be that you post only the first couple paragraphs and then give a "read the whole article" link to the post here on NTM.

Peace and blessings! +

Fr Levi said...

Amen to the literal truth of the miracles! I said the same thing in my sermon today. Yes, the stories 'multi-task' and work on many different levels, but we must never lose sight of the basic truth that they really happened. Jesus healed the paralytic as a sign of his authority to forgive sins - the miracles are the 'warrant' that he is who he says he is & that his promises are true. To deny the miracles is to deny Christ.

Anonymous said...

I don't accept the "sharing" interpretation. But how do you explain the presence of the "twelve wicker baskets" to the sceptic? Certainly people didn't bring empty wicker baskets with them to listen to Jesus.

JARay said...

To anonymous:-
I never gave the twelve wicker baskets a thought, I must admit, but if Christ could multiply the loaves(which he did) then he could also multiply the number of baskets required to gather in the portions left over. The original loaves were in a basket at least and one could easily be made into twelve, just as the loaves were multiplied by Christ.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The question about the baskets is interesting indeed! I don't know for sure how to answer it ... I will copy here the commentary from Cornelius a' Lapide, who thinks that the twelve baskets were present at the beginning (empty) and that Christ multiplied the loaves to fill the baskets for distribution, and that the loaves continued to be multiplied so that the baskets came back still full.
[but, as to from whither the baskets came, Cornelius is silent]

"And took up, &c. They brought back, therefore, more bread than they had brought to Christ at first. For the twelve baskets would contain not five, but thirty or more loaves. It is probable Christ first broke the five loaves with His own hands, and in breaking multiplied them, and placed them in these baskets for distribution. These were afterwards, by His command, distributed by the Apostles to the different companies, and were gradually more and more multiplied; by which means they brought back to Christ as many baskets of fragments as they had received baskets of loaves from Him at the beginning. Cedrenus (Compend. Histor.) relates that these twelve baskets were carefully preserved in the Church of the Twelve Apostles, which Constantine the Great built at Constantinople."

Jub said...

Had a debate with a priest after the mass because he was teaching what is condemned in this article.

He told me I should be studying more about the "THEOLOGY OF MIRACLES" since I don't have a theological degree.

keb_17 said...

> I know some Priests here in Bacolod that says it's all about sharing and doesn't mention any miracle. He quoted that The Jews loves to bring food whole they travel that's why the loaves and fish became plenty.
But this idea is a modernist Idea.

It's quite clear in the Bible that Jesus made a miracle..

I am not Spartacus said...

"But how do you explain the presence of the "twelve wicker baskets" to the sceptic? "

Perhaps one or more of the baskets had been made by Jesus or Joseph, both of whom were carpenters.

I have read the book, "Daily Life in the Time of Christ," By Henri Daniel-Rops in which he notes that men had to transport water from the source to their homes, so, maybe the baskets were being used to transport jugs of water or some other necessity of life.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Those priests who would like to take way the miracle have not read the Scriptures very carefully. Consider the Matthew 16, when the disicples had set out by boat with Jesus but had forgotten to bring enough bread. When they notices and grumbled a bit, Jesus said:
"Why do you think within yourselves, O ye of little faith, for that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand, neither do you remember the five loaves among five thousand men, and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves among four thousand men, and how many baskets you took up?"
(Matthew 16:8-10)
Now, that comment wouldn't make much sense if people were just sharing, would it?

[regarding those priests who put down the laity on account of the fact that they do not have theological degrees ... I can only say that such intellectual pride is damning; we must be like children to reach the Kingdom]

To those lay persons who have been forced to suffer the poor example of such priests ... use it is a reminder of how much we priests need your prayers. We are indeed clay vessels, far too easily shattered!
Have mercy on your poor priests, and give them (us) to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Anonymous said...

Re: "I don't accept the "sharing" interpretation. But how do you explain the presence of the "twelve wicker baskets" to the sceptic? Certainly people didn't bring empty wicker baskets with them to listen to Jesus."

1st - how big is a "basket"? Is the thought of thousands of people effecting the image of the baskets in the mind of the skeptic?  What catches the skeptic's eye is often a very good indicator of their reason's depth of formation.  And when their question points to an assumption, look for an assumption they have made.  Doing so often makes for an easy rebuttal.  Socrates was masterful at this form of argument.

2nd - "certainly"?  Really, certain of such things?  Many people traveled with their belongings, nomadic life was common among the people of the period, so it would be no surprise for some in the crowd to have baskets..  

3rd - Why assume there was no village near by simply because it was not specifically mentioned in the Gospel that Christ did not ask for someone to go get 12 baskets?

Often the skeptic comes to the Gospels with an eye that thinks they were written for those who do not have ears to hear.  So they naturally think simple logical or common sense failures indicate Scripture is something fools fall for.  The Gospels warn of this.  It's also why the teachings of the Catholic Church are your best armor against such "common sense" arguments.  The Church has a long history of apologetics to turn to for answers to such "sage" questions; questions asked over and over again for centuries.  It's also one of the best arguments for re-introduction of Philosophy as a core requirement of the education system; it is the history of man's thought.  Personally I believe the removal of such was one of the greatest "victories" of Satan against man.  

If ignorance of history condemns one to repeat it, does not the same hold for the history of human thought?

Hope this helps.

Centurion 9.41

Brendan O'Neil said...

I once encountered a priest who gave a homily on how this was an act of "sharing". I asked if he really thought that getting a bunch of Jews to share something was such a big event that it had to be recorded for all time as a sign of Christ's Divinity. "Don't you think, Father, that preaching that it would take God Himself present among us to get Jews to share isn't a bit Anti-Semitic?" :P

Anonymous said...

The priest at our parish offered a different twist on the story. It's all about inclusiveness. Everybody was welcomed by Jesus, the women of the night, straights and gays, etc., etc. He just loves everybody and they all felt his love and acceptance.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (7:57am),
1st, please use a pseudonym when you make a comment.

2nd, It is certainly true that Jesus accepts all, especially sinners. But he asks that we give up our sins and follow him.
Rather than be fed on the vain pleasures of life, we are to be fed on the true doctrine of Christ and on the Eucharist.

Personally, I find it interesting that the priest seems to have focused almost exclusively on sexual sins (or at least, those are the only ones you mentioned) ... MORE THAN a little strange!

bbruno said...

The bread is also ..the illumination of the hierarchy in matters of faith and morals... This is true in principle, and this has been true in the course of centuries up to some decades ago, but , helas, it's not the case of the modern(ist) hierarchy of today!

Loreto Kara-an said...

Why is it that our priest have different interpretation of the Gospel.I thought we are in common when dealing with the Gospel.This be check by the Vatican.One Church ,One God,Universal and Apostolic.

Mike Shannon said...

The Sharing Theory as opposed to the Multiplication of the loaves has no arguments in its favor found in the bible readings and many many against it. I have spent many hours on it and reduce it to simply say "read John 6:13 and if that does not convince you that it was multipliation of the loves then read John 6:23" . I will show them here. I rest my case solely on those two verses but there are many other arguments such as in Jesus Himself saying "they have no bread", or His advising they go into the towns to buy bread.
Read this from the NAB version:
John 6:13 So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets* with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
FROM THE FIVE BARLEY LOAVES is the key phrase. Not convinced. John 6:26 should do it. 26Jesus answered them and said, “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.
AGAIN THE LOAVES NOT THE EMERGENCY RATIONS which Jesus tells us they didn't have anyway.
PEACE TO YOU,
MIKE SHANNON

Anonymous said...

It's very clear to me that when Jesus fed the 4,000(Matt 15:32)and said "....they have been with me for three days AND HAVE NOTHING TO EAT", that the modern theological offering implies either that Jesus was clueless about the
extra food people had hoarded away, or that Jesus was lying when he said "they have nothing to eat". Who would you believe? Jesus or the modern theologians?

It's all in an attempt to deny Jesus' Divinity and reduce him to a mere mortal, just like the demeaning of the manna in the desert as being
only ant dung.

Lori

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