What are Your Five Loaves and Two Fishes? A Meditation on the Gospel of the 17th Sunday of the Year

We have today the very familiar miracle of the loaves and fishes. One is tempted to say, “Oh that one…and tune out.” But, if we allow it, the gospel today contains a very personal appeal from the Lord’s lips to your (my) ears: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”

Immediately all the objections swim through our minds, but be still, and let us allow the Lord to instruct us and apply this Gospel in three stages.

I would like to apply this gospel in such a way as to illustrate our need to evangelize the culture in which we currently live. For it is a fact that there is an immense task before us that can overwhlem us, and yet the Lord still bids us to get busy and join him in feeding the mutltiudes.

I. THE IMAGE THAT IS EXTOLLED – The text says, Jesus went up on the mountain,and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him…

The text says that Jesus saw a large crowd. I wonder if we do? Generally today we think of declining numbers when it comes to Church life. This is because we tend to think in terms of members. Whereas Jesus more clearly thinks in terms of those who need to be reached. And, as we know well in our culture, the number of those who need to be reached IS a large number! And thus, while it seems clear to us that hte gospel is currently “out of season” we must never forget that everyone is precious to the Lord and that he wants to reach all and feed them with his grace and mercy, his truth and love.

So, the image that is extolled is need, not beleivers and non-believers. Is this how you and I see the world? Jesus sees all the world as a vineyard, as a mission field. He sees all as hungry, no matter how obstinant they are. It is a sad fact that many reject the food we in the Church offer today, and they may, in fact, deny that they are hungry. But in the end they are hungry and Jesus is about to ask our help in feeding them. Thus, while we may see opponents to the faith, this text lifts up an image that is more rooted simply in a universal human problem: hunger, physical and spiritual.

II. THE INSUFFICIENCY THAT IS EXPRESSED – The text says, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus said this to test Philip, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him,”Two hundred days?’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.'” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;but what good are these for so many?”

There is a human tendency to feel overwhelmed.  And this tendency is understandable since the task of evangelizing and feeding the world is daunting to say the least.

Yet note that they are NOT without any resources. It may seem little, but it is not nothing.

And so for us who may seem overwhelmed by the cultural meltdown taking place before our very eyes. Everywhere we turn it seems that every number we want to be down, is up. And every number we want to be up, is down. The cultural war seems to be occuring on multiple fronts: family, marriage, sexuality, life issues, religious freedom, schools, church attendance, the rise of secularism and atheism, and bad notions of personal responsibility and self-control.

The list could go on, and it is not difficult to demonstrate that the disrepair in our culture is enormous. The task of evangelizing our culture may well seem far beyond a deficit of two hundred days wages.

But note that Jesus says, “Where can “WE” get enough” to solve the problem. For it is not only us, mere mortals, to resolve the grave issues of today. The Lord asks us to work with him. Now, it would seem, we have a dog in the fight.

III. THE IMMENSITY THAT IS  EXPERIENCEDJesus said, “Have the people recline.”Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,” Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”So they collected them,and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves.

Now this story is so familiar that you and I are not shocked by the outcome. But no matter how many times we hear it, we still do not really accept it’s astonishing truth:

  1. I can do all things in God who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)
  2. All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23)
  3. For man it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God (Mk 10:27)
  4. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Cor 9:10)

Yes, We all know that this world is in an increasingly bad state. The problems seem overwhelming and our resources seem so limited to turn back the tide. What will we ever do with only five loaves and two fishes?

Jesus says, bring them to me.

Yet again, the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. The conversion of the whole world, begins with me. As I look the huge problems before me, I (this means you) assess my loaves and fishes:

  1. I work on my own conversion. For a holier world has to start with me. If I get holier, the world get’s holier.
  2. I look to the poor I can serve, maybe with money maybe with talents, like tutoring, counseling etc. Maybe just with the time of listening.
  3. I pick up the phone and call a family member I know is hurting.
  4. I love my spouse and children.
  5. I spend time properly raising my own children to know the Lord and seek his kingdom.
  6. I exhort the weak in my own family, and with love, rebuke sin and encourage righteousness.
  7. If I am a priest or religious, I faithfully live my vocation, and heroically call others to Christ by teaching and proclaiming the gospel without compromise.
  8. If I am a young person I seek to devoutly prepare myself for a vocation to marriage, priesthood or religious life.
  9. If I am older I seek to manifest wisdom and good example to those who are young.
  10. If I am elderly, I seek to devoutly prepare myself for death, and to give good example in this, and to witness the desire for heaven.
  11. I will pray for this world and attend mass faithfully, begging God’s mercy on this sin soaked world.

It is too easy to lament this world’s condition and, like the apostles, feel overwhelmed. Jesus just says, bring me what you have, and let’s get started. The conversion of the whole world will begin with me, with my meager loaves and fishes.

And Jesus will surely multiply them, he will not fail. Already there is renewal evident in the Church, through a faithful remnant willing to bring their loaves fishes, some of the things mentioned above and more besides. They are bringing them to Jesus and he is multiplying them. Renewal is happening, and signs of spring are evident in the Church.

There is an old saying that it is easier to wear slippers that to carpet the whole of the earth. Indeed it is. If it is a converted world you want start with yourself. Bring your loaves and fishes to Jesus, bring your slippers, and let’s get started.  It begins with me.

This song says,

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re traveling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain

14 Replies to “What are Your Five Loaves and Two Fishes? A Meditation on the Gospel of the 17th Sunday of the Year”

  1. A very timely post as the last half a dozen or so impact with the seed of a negative inspiration. No one of us have the mandate; nor likely the right; to save the world but, we can offer our loaf or our fish.
    Matthew 9:37 and Luke 10:2.
    Reminds me of a story about a fellow strolling along a beach on the morning after a storm which had tossed thousands of starfish up above the high tide mark. As he strolled along he occasionally picked up a starfish and tossed it back into the water.
    Another fellow watched for a while and commented that, what with the thousands of starfish scattered so far up, the fellow who was throwing a few back wouldn’t make a difference.
    The first fellow then picked up another stranded starfish, threw it into the ocean and said, “made a difference to that one.”
    I may have told this story here before but, one might hope that it’s been long enough since that the last time so that it may be due again.

  2. And what did they do with all those leftovers? If they soon thereafter got into their boats and left, it is unlikely that they took all of that bread with them. The text doesn’t say, it doesn’t say if they did anything with them, or if they simply threw them out. But if they gave them away, wouldn’t that be significant enough to mention?

    Is it significant that the text does NOT go on to say that they then gave the leftovers to the poor, who surely would be in great need of them? or that it does not say that they gave the people the leftovers the next day when the people came looking for Jesus and the Apostles (who had left the area)?

    When the people came searching for Jesus and the Apostles, was it because they were looking for some more free handouts, or because they were genuinely intrigued by Jesus? Is it significant that, instead of giving them that leftover bread, Jesus gave them a bunch of words about “bread” instead (the Bread of Life discourse)?

    Or am I thinking about this too much and asking too many questions?

    1. I think it is a good question. I don’t have the answer. They had thousands of saliva samples.

    2. Is the fact that the text does not say itself say something? What is the real meaning of those fragments? Literal history or symbolic? Are the fragments just bread, or do they have some other significance?

      By not saying what happened with them, Is the text saying to us that to the extent that the fragments are actual worldly bread, what happened with the leftovers of that actual worldly bread is irrelevant? Is it saying that we miss the point if we look at this as merely a worldly, physical event, rather than focusing on the mystical, supernatural aspect?

    3. @Bender,
      I don’t believe the leftovers were discarded, because Jesus said:
      “When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,” Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”So they collected them,and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves.

      Please focus on the first sentence, more importantly where it says “so nothing will be wasted”.

  3. And what did they do with all those leftovers?

    Microwave them the next afternoon?

  4. Great way of applying a miracle everyday life. Also, given that barley was used here and possibly at the Last Supper, why can’t it be a grain flour for Eucharistic bread?

  5. One thing at a time, with what I have at the moment.. God will provide and help. All I need is the willingness. Thank you again for using the gifts that God gave you.

  6. A lot of these people who experienced the miracle must have been among the early Church and that the early Church grew so quickly is evidence that this was really a miracle and not just secret sharing.

  7. Something The Holy Spirit called me to is to take the “Holy Cards” from funerals, place them in date of death or birth order, put them in a convenient container (mine in a zip lock bag on my nightstand), then pray (I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet) for the souls’ day it is. If their friends or family are still in my life I might call or email letting them know of my prayers and share a memory of their loved one. I feel called to share this so that more and more are praying for the dead and sharing God’s love.

  8. What is the significance of the mention that the passover was near? What did that have to do with the rest of the text?

  9. I never thought about this passage from this point of view. I only looked at it from the point of the miraculous,from a more personal,if not a little selfish point of view but this really has changed my view and I must appreciate the writer on changing my perspective,to a huge extent,as regarding this. God bless you and continue keeping yourself open to God,it’s changing the world. Seriously.. Cheers.

  10. Good article, thanks. I know this thread is well out of date but I’m still a bit confused. This story has a much deeper metaphorical meaning that the article didn’t address, namely in the numbers mentioned, and how Elisha and Elijah both multiplied barley loaves. 12 Wicker baskets? 12 Tribes of Israel? But why of the two fish, what is their symbolism?

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