The feeding of the five thousand appears in all four gospels. The feeding of four thousand is found in St. Mark’s Gospel.
In the Gospel of St. John we learn extra details - that the loaves and fish were brought by a small boy and that afterwards the people intended to seize Christ and declare Him king.
Let us conduct a small experiment. What if after a long day in an isolated place with a large number of hungry people the disciples had said to Christ: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Suppose Christ had then said: “Can we feed them?” and they had replied: “We have very little food and very little money.” If in this version our Lord agrees: “That is so, they must buy their own food, it is their responsibility.” then St .John would have [then] concluded: “So the crowd was sent away to buy food as best it could.”
Even if we did not know what had really happened [the changed version] this would not ring true of what we know about Christ. Yet it is precisely the sort of view I have heard from many Christians in dealing with people in need. Christ in St. John’s version goes on to talk about Himself as the Bread of Life and draws parallels with the manna in the desert that fed the Israelites. I do not wish to forget that Christ truly is this Bread of Life, and that feeding on Him we do not starve, but today let us deal with the practical aspects.
Like the first miracle in Cana where water changes into wine, Christ is meeting a need; although this time he did not need his Mother to prompt Him [into doing it]. God feeds his people. He did it in the desert with the Israelites and He does it today. The story does, however, show God doing very great things with scarce resources.
Christ gives thanks to the Father as He distributes the loaves, which is to be expected, as indeed we ought to give thanks for food and everything else. This gratitude for being fed, for all that God gives us, should percolate through our lives and inform all that we say and do.
As Christ gives thanks to the Father, He also shows that His will is in accord with His Father’s will. The story demonstrates, quite dramatically, the duty of hospitality. Despite the scarce resources, Christ shares what they have, which would be little enough for the group of disciples alone, never mind the population of a reasonably sized town, (5000 men plus women and children).
God’s provision is said to be abundant, and this is supported by there being 12 baskets remaining, one each for nearly 500 people. Perhaps it is a case of “a little more than is needed”! That would fit with my experience of God supplying more than enough to meet my needs. What is your response?
I think we should be generous with our hospitality and take comfort from knowing that what we give benefits us as well, whilst what we refuse becomes in turn a problem for us. We need to lay up treasure in heaven and take seriously the idea of not being too anxious about food, drink and clothes. Like Christ we should be bold both in our giving and in our generosity.
I think we also need to be a little more aware of the gifts that God has given us and how we, humanity that is, use them. I say this in a world which, yet again, includes the evil of famine.
Let us then consider the nature of evil, summed up very concisely by St Diadochos of Photiki.
“Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other has not, except when we give it existence through our actions.”
(On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts, 3, in the Philokalia, vol 1, p. 253)
Bringing evil into existence is a hideous parody of God’s creative action.
I venture to suggest that famine as we have it now is largely a result of human action. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. Famine arises from a combination of greed, of debt, (that keeps whole nations in poverty), and of war. Famine is the result of human free will, and human will could eradicate it.
To take one small example: a lot of goods consume a lot of water and there are also the basic water needs of agriculture to consider. We misuse water terribly. The Aral Sea has become a salt encrusted desert area following the diversion of water over the years to grow cotton. Importing food and lots of other products has the side effect of importing “virtual water”- the “invisible” water that went into producing these goods. A recent estimate puts this at 650 tons of water per person for the UK annually. #
Richer nations are leasing farm land mainly in Africa, including Ethiopia, to secure food supplies. #
There are serious dangers of conflict in this diversion of resources to feed the richer nations. It is the old story of securing supplies by controlling sources of food. What was once free and local is becoming enmeshed in international contracts and supply chains, foreign control and, essentially, exploitation.
Along with a rush to produce “green bio-fuel” at the expense of felling rainforest it suggests we are not the stewards of creation that we ought to be. The urge for green fuels is actually dumping vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the air. #
I urge us all, therefore, to think very hard about what we do, how we do it and the impact this has on the planet.
Let us be truly grateful and bold in our response to God’s blessings and responsible and loving in our responsibility to each other and for those things He has given us. Individually we may do very little, but I am reminded of the story of the boy walking along a beach after a storm and throwing stranded star fish back into the water. Asked if it were not a hopeless case and he could not save all of them, so it made no difference, he answered: “Well it does to the ones I can throw back.”
So let us be hospitable, give where we can and also be aware of our use and misuse of resources. This is one aspect of life where we need to be aware that our Christian duty does not stop at attending services. We have to take that love out into the world, to help those who are starving and do what we can to be informed about what is done by us, all of us, and as part of a richer nation, to the world as a whole. We are Christians when we buy goods as well as when we attend Church. We can change things for the better.