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Let the bread be shared with everyone on earth

The sign of the multiplication of bread performed by Jesus indicates that the new society, one in which everyone is given the opportunity to live according to the plan of the Creator, where everyone can have sufficient resources to meet basic needs, must begin here and now. So an undue spiritualisation of this passage must be avoided.

Is it conceivable that the resources of this world would be enough to feed everyone and still with leftovers? The apostles’ doubts expressed with frankness and lucidity reflect our concerns. It is written in the Mishna, to meet the daily needs of the poor, 1/12 of a denar is needed. Philip does a quick calculation: with 200 denars 4800 half portions could be prepared (v. 7). But where to find a lot of money and a lot of bread?

Andrew intervenes: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish,” then, as if he realised he had made a remark devoid of any common sense, he adds immediately, “But what good are they for so many?” (v. 9). 

There is little food and an immense crowd. Faced with a situation two hundred times less complicated, Elisha’s servant had the same reaction: “How am I to divide these loaves among so many people?”

 Through an ingenious dialogue, Jesus reveals the strategies dictated by the wisdom of men to solve the problem of hunger in the world, which the evangelist has cleverly placed in the mouth of the apostles. 

The conclusion is reached: there is no solution; the mouths to feed are too many and resources are insignificant. 

It is at this point that Jesus promises his solution. The crowd is asked to lie down on the green grass of a meadow. “There was plenty of grass there” (v. 10)—the evangelist notes—and this detail, seemingly marginal and superfluous, is significant because it refers explicitly, the words of the psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2). 

 By this sign, Jesus establishes sharing of goods is the way to solve the hunger of the world. An oversimplified spiritualistic interpretation of this passage, therefore, should be avoided. However, one cannot but note that the story has Eucharistic overtones. In the description of Jesus’ actions—“Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them to those who were seated” (v. 11)—is an obvious reference to the words of the institution of the Eucharist (Mark 14:22). It is the way in which John recalls to his and our communities that the problem of material food is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharist. It would make no sense to break the Eucharistic bread together and not to share the material bread.


λ Father Jijo Kandamkulathy cmf