In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, today we commemorate one of the two accounts in the Gospel according to Mark of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. The two accounts are usually distinguished as the Feeding of the 5000 and the Feeding of the 4000, and in today’s Gospel we are recalling the latter. Some Biblical scholars have made the case that the two accounts are in fact an allusion to the same historical event. They point to the fact that the Feeding of the 4000, which happens just two chapters after the Feeding of the 5000, includes the Disciples yet again incredulously asking of Our Lord how He can find bread enough for the multitude way out here in this wilderness. Even if in Mark’s Gospel the Disciples often are depicted as slow to catch on to the real meaning behind Our Lord’s ministry, the scholars claim that the Disciples would not be so dense as to forget how Christ Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish for the 5000 not that long before. Assuming then that Mark’s Gospel has two accounts of one historical event, we are invited to ask the question: Why? Did St. Mark make a mistake when he gathered together the eyewitness testimony and assume that discrepancies in details meant that there had been two separate events? Or are there deeper theological insights that can only come forward if we are looking at the same event from two different perspectives? Given how the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of all of the Books of the Bible, and how the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, there is no conclusion possible for the faithful Christian but the latter. St. Mark did not err. Rather, in virtue of the Holy Spirit working through his pen, we are invited to remember the one historical event from two perspectives. In this light it would be helpful for us to consider how the Feeding of the 5000 and the Feeding of the 4000 in Mark’s Gospel diverge from one another.
The Feeding of the 5000 happens on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is within the Jewish territory. The Feeding of the 4000 happens on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is within the Gentile territory. In both accounts, they are assembled in a remote place, and yet with the Feeding of the 5000 there is more food relatively nearby. In the Feeding of the 4000, there is no other food nearby, so the connotation is that the Gentile setting is even more remote and hostile. With the Feeding of the 5000, Christ Jesus has compassion upon the multitude, for they are like sheep without their shepherd. With the Feeding of the 4000, Christ Jesus does not refer to them as “sheep,” for presumably there are many Gentiles mixed in with the Jews in the multitude. Instead, He calls attention to the fact that they have been with Him out here in the wilderness for three days. This foreshadows the Death and the Resurrection of Our Lord, and so we are invited to see the three days out in a remote and hostile place with no food nearby as an allusion to death. Gentile and Jew alike share in this, for death is the wage of sin for all men, and so Our Lord’s triumph over sin on Easter Sunday will be offered unto all, no matter if those men have been circumcised or uncircumcised, clean or unclean, condemned by the Law of Moses or oblivious to that Law. With the Feeding of the 5000, the scraps gathered up by the Disciples fit into twelve baskets, which is a number important to the Jewish context. With the Feeding of the 4000, the very same scraps gathered up by the Disciples fit into seven baskets, which is a number important to the Gentile context. Seven is a number that refers to completeness, the resolution of all things, the universality of the human condition, for it is on the Seventh Day that God rests in acknowledgment of the completeness of His creative work.
In Mark’s Gospel, it is no coincidence that the Feeding of the 5000 is recounted two chapters prior to the Feeding of the 4000. If the Feeding of the 5000 is the more Jewish rendition of this event, then we are invited to see that the salvation of the chosen people of God happens prior to the salvation of everyone else. Christ Jesus focuses His ministry upon His fellow Jews. He will travel into Gentile territory only sporadically, and He will heal the suffering Gentiles, not in the normal course of events, but as extraordinary acts of kindness and mercy. The Jew comes first, not because God loves the Jew more than the Gentile, but because God is forever faithful to His covenant with the people He has ordained unto Himself. He is faithful to His promise, and so St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: For it is the power of God unto salvation to all that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” In the same Epistle, St. Paul later writes: “Glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Underlying God’s covenant with His chosen people is a love that is absolute, focused, intimate, and pure, and so God is jealous for His people as He in turn commands them to be jealous towards Him. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God Himself warns His chosen people: “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God…For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Precisely because God shows that He is jealous for His own people in having the Feeding of the 5000 happen chronologically prior to the Feeding of the 4000, so may the Gentiles then have faith that in extending His love onto them He is also extending that same jealousy onto them. In Christ Jesus all men now may be included among the chosen people of God, and so the second account of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes places that miracle in a Gentile setting which includes a mix of Gentiles and Jews among the multitude. Now, in this second account, we have a clear foreshadowing of the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord in that all of mankind symbolically is out there in that dead wilderness for three days. Now, in this second account, we have a clear foreshadowing that the completeness of Our Lord’s triumph over sin and death will be offered unto all, Gentile and Jew alike, for the seven buckets of scraps brought back by the Disciples to Christ Jesus is an allusion to the Seven Days of Creation brought back into a holy and worshipful relation with God.
In every account of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes we are reminded that God defies our expectations. He is not bound by what we perceive to be impossible. His power transcends our despair. His jealous love for us is greater than our faithlessness, our wayward affections, even our outright hostility. He will feed us, clothe us, provide us a home, no matter how far we are willing to go to try to divorce ourselves from Him. When we consider the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes from two perspectives, and in particular also read the Feeding of the 5000 prior to the Feeding of the 4000, then we realize that as much as the miracle defies our expectations, it is also a reaffirmation of God’s order and design. God’s order for the universe, and His design for our lives, are all expressions of His jealous faithfulness to what and to whom He loves. He is faithful to His promise, and so He feeds the 5000 chronologically before the 4000. He extends that same faithfulness to all men, and so with the Feeding of the 4000 in particular we see the miracle take place in a Gentile setting before a multitude of Gentiles and Jews. We see a three days allusion to the Death and the Resurrection of Our Lord, and we see in the seven buckets the recapitulation back unto the Father of all of those who choose willingly to follow His Son.
At first glance, this may seem overly academic and theological, but consider the consequences. If indeed the jealous love that God has for His chosen people is now extended unto the Gentile, then it is extended unto each and every one of us no matter our station in life. He is as jealous for our souls as for the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He wants to nourish us back to life, no matter how remote and hostile the wilderness in which we have put ourselves as a result of our many sins. We are all out there in that desert place with the rest of the multitude, and we are invited not only to eat but to step out from the multitude and into a personal and intimate relationship with God and with His Church. With God, what nourishes us makes us known, first to Him, and then to one another. The multitude is transformed into a communion of the good and the faithful. The strangers lost in a mass of humanity become the citizens of His Kingdom. Open your heart to God, allow yourself to be nourished by Him against all expectations, and in time you will see a tangible change in your life and in your interaction with the world. What had seemed a desert place, or a wilderness far from food, becomes a well-stocked home. There are no more strangers, no more foreigners, no more distinctions of race, nationality, nor creed that had been beforehand perhaps an obstacle to charity. We are all fed by our jealous God, and so we are all known, cherished, valued, able to walk upright behind Our Lord into our eternal life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.