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.