We cannot feed this crowd on our own.
In today’s gospel, we have one of the more famous stories in the New Testament. The feeding of the five thousand is told across all four gospels, so it should stand out to us as a moment of particular importance. Last week, we saw Our Lord’s great desire for us to give Him all that we have in exchange for the pearl of great price. Now, let us dive a bit deeper to examine His invitation to us and how He desires our full and active participation in His work of salvation in this age.
Pity and the Crowd
“His heart was moved with pity for them” (Mt 14:13).
Here, we receive a glimpse into the very Heart of Jesus. We see how He was interiorly moved by “the vast crowd”. And if we look at the response of the disciples just a few verses later, we can get an insight into how Our Lord felt. “Dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves” (Mt 14:15). Now, we might say that the disciples did indeed pity the crowd, as they wanted Our Lord to send them off so that they would be able to eat before the village closed down since it was “already late”. But Jesus seems to be focused on more than just their bodily need for sustenance. His Heart yearns to draw all of these souls to Himself, to their source and fulfillment.
In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we can almost hear the words pouring out from Christ’s Heart.
“Come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost” (Is 55:1).
While the disciples would have the crowd go and pay for their food, Jesus offers nourishment at no cost. He sees the deep need and desperation in the hearts of this crowd that has come to “a deserted place” seeking a remedy to their tortured hearts. Isaiah’s words act as Christ’s response to the disciples' remarks. “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy?” (Is 55:2) Jesus, likewise, does not want people to look anywhere else except to Him, the Bread of Life, lest they waste themselves on empty food that will leave them dissatisfied. And so, moved by His compassionate Sacred Heart, Our Lord seeks to feed these souls before Him, but not without the help of those that follow Him.
“There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves” (Mt 14:16).
Often, we read this story and focus on how we need to give over everything to Jesus, even if it is a very small offering as it is here. Let us take this theme of trust and abandonment, and expand upon it. The temptation can be to think that we just give God our “five loaves and two fish”, as if it were some pagan sacrifice that then incites Him to act on our behalf without our involvement. Friends, this is decidedly false. This comes from seeing ourselves as just one of those anonymous members of the crowd, whereas in reality, we are truly the disciples He has called by name. As such, we are entrusted to feed the people with what we have received from Christ by virtue of our baptism. If we look at Our Lord’s words, we see that He clearly wants the disciples to be involved in what He is doing. We are invited to offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1) to God the Father through and united to Christ His Son, who is the true sacrifice, for the life of the world. We do not fret over the meagerness of our offering, of our own poverty of heart and weakness of spirit. We heed the invitation of Jesus when He says, “Bring them here to me” (Mt 14:18). For we know that we cannot feed this crowd on our own. It is then that He works through us, who are not dead but alive because we, who have given ourselves over whole and entire, are now in Christ, and Christ is not dead but alive.
The Common Priesthood
“He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds” (Mt 14:19).
It is here in the story that we see all that we have said come together. Christ, out of His deep and compassionate love for humanity, draws them to Himself, makes His offering with them to the Father, and then shares the fruits of this act gratuitously with all through those He has called and chosen for the sake of the world. It is here that we participate in the common priesthood we were granted a share in when we were baptized. Just as Christ the High Priest offered Himself for the salvation of souls, so now we share in this action through His power and blessing. Christ does not bypass us or our offering to accomplish His will in this age, rather He entrusts us with His very Self in our hearts through the Sacraments and prayer so that we can bring Life to the world. And so like Christ, who receives everything from the Father, we offer that which we have been freely given, which is our life united to He who is truly everything. He acts in and with us so that all might see the goodness with which we were made, and that we might come to know the depth of His love for each of us. So, let us be true disciples today. Let us come with trust and receive the Heart of Jesus that is on offer to us, so that we may work to do His will for our good and the good of all our brothers and sisters. Let us abandon ourselves totally to Him and desire only that true food that He gives to satisfy the hearts of every man and woman in this age. For truly,
“they ate and were satisfied (Mt 14:20).