Edgardo C. de Vera
The Eucharistic miracle the multiplication of loaves is sometimes we may come across a commentary or hear a homily on a Scripture passage that does not quite square with a life-long belief from basic Catechism. It could be for better Cristo-centric perspective of a particular miracle or event, which is good, or less desirably unorthodox, like a rational explanation that downplays what the sacred author originally intended to convey, especially in regard to miracles of Jesus like the Eucharistic miracle the multiplication of loaves.
One exegesis the prelude to the Eucharistic miracle and the multiplication of loaves that has become widespread in the wake of resurgent interest in Bible studies and has disturbingly reached the pulpit is the rationalized interpretation of the multiplication of loaves in the four Gospels. How many times has it been heard that the real miracle was a “sharing” of provisions by the people when, upon seeing Jesus give broken bread to His disciples for distribution, pulled out their hidden baons and shared with each other?
Nowhere is there any verse in the narratives of all four evangelists to support this conjecture nor are there supporting proof-texts that even hint of the Eucharistic miracle . Moreover we do not find a Eucharistic miracle similar view from writings of Church Fathers on the “sharing” theory, an exegesis that is really quite recent from the critico-historical school where the study of Scripture is reduced to an empirical science apart from Church Tradition.
Archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land in closing quarter of the 19th century had given impetus to biblical studies aided by consequential advances made in fields of linguistics, history, and ethnography. Liberties were taken by a few Protestant and Jewish scholars – bereft of an Apostolic Tradition, the more progressive sought logical analysis for anything mystical or supernatural which led to extremes of demythologizing the entire Bible; the rise of Protestant Biblical Fundamentalism was a reaction to this the Eucharistic miracle and multiplication of loaves.
It ought to be recalled that the Church encouraged use of modern methods, but as custodian of the Sacred Writ, cautioned Catholic scholars to be attentive to Church Tradition in three encyclicals: Proventissimus Deus by Pope Leo (1893) known as the Magna Carta of Bible Studies, upheld the Church as true interpreter of the Scriptures; Spiritus Paraclitus by Benedict XV (1920) on guidance of the Holy Spirit; and Divino Afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII (1943), which echoed the previous encyclicals and warned that overdependence on purely scientific methods cannot be independent of Church Tradition. Eucharistic miracle was reaffirmed in Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation) by the Second Vatican Council.
In early 20th century Robert Bultmann, a German Lutheran theologian, popularized form criticism in a purely rational and objective approach to exegesis and hermeneutics (the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible). Anything supernatural or mystical and seemingly inconsistent and contradictory verses were conveniently explained rationally, resulting in an eisegesis instead of an exegesis, a manner where one’s own ideas are introduced. Many scholars picked up the method with dire consequences of misinterpretations and misrepresentations. When professors present different exegeses to students of Scripture but fail to give a definitive Catholic teaching, the door is left open for the acceptance of unorthodox views: the novel theory of “sharing” of provisions is one.
The basis for the “sharing” hypothesis comes from the notion that Jews never left their homes without taking provisions for a journey. Although this is most certainly true in those days, modern scholars – two millennia removed from the event – proposing this view fail to take into account that the multitude came from neighboring villages of the Sea of Galilee (Mat 14:13; Mk 6:33; Lk 9:10). The miracle for the multiplication of loaves and the Eucharistic miracle were not pilgrim Jews travelling to Jerusalem from distant parts of the Roman Empire for a sojourn that would have taken days, but inhabitants from towns like Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum that were within an hour’s walk of each other; some must surely have come in their boats (cf. Jn 6:23-24).
Christ had centered His three-year ministry among these village folk in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali and theirs was the supreme privilege of having the great light prophesied by Isaiah fulfilled in their midst (cf. Mat 4:15). Yet they would reject Him in the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:22-66); their rejection and disbelief despite numerous miracles done for them would later draw His ire: Woe to you Chorazin… woe to you Bethsaida… as for you Capernaum… (Mat 11:21-23; Lk 10:13-15).
Anyone familiar with rural life knows that walking is the principal method of travel in the absence of public conveyances; The miracle for the multiplication of loaves and the Eucharistic miracle were was and still is so in remote rural areas. Scholars used to vehicular ease to archaeological digs and academic milieu of archives, libraries, campuses, lecture-halls, and erudite peers somehow overlook this. Another often-overlooked fact is that Semites, being oriental [and rural] peoples are culturally a sharing lot: Abraham served his three visitors and waited on them; sharing food and drink is found in Old Testament passages. That said, the gathering wouldn’t have needed Christ’s distribution of and multiplication of loaves to His disciples to prompt them to share if that had indeed been a case.
Christ is the sharer not the crowds, performing a miracle to foreshadow sharing in Eucharist. All four Gospel accounts mention Jesus taking the loaves, giving thanks, breaking them and giving to His disciples (Mat 14:19; Mk 6:41, 8:7; Lk 9:16; Jn 6:11). The mulipication of bread Eucharistic Miracle action – fulfilled at the Last Supper, repeated on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:30), in the Infant Church thru His ministers (Acts 27:35; 1 Cor 11:23-24) and daily throughout two thousand years into perpetuity – is central to all seven Latin and twenty-two Eastern rites of the Catholic Church.
If the people had merely shared their provisions why then did they say Jesus “is the prophet” [a reference to the prophecy in Deut 18:18] or want to make Him king (Jn 6:14-15)? Why did they bother at all to look for Him then ask for a sign (Jn 6:24-30)? In biblical terminology, a sign is proof of God’s intervention, a miracle; the sign they hinted for was multiplication of the loaves. When Jesus chided them for being there not because of miracles but for having eaten their fill (Jn 6:26) they had the gall to remind Him how Moses had fed their ancestors in the desert with bread from heaven (Jn 6:31; Exo 16:4). All they really wanted was another freebie.
Manna still occurs in the Sinai desert; however even in the inert conditions of that vast wilderness, The miracle for the multiplication of loaves and the Eucharistic miracle were won’t likely happen with daily regularity for forty long years. Our Lord told them who provided the manna and gives true bread from heaven (Jn 6:32). To the Church Fathers the manna foreshadowed the miracle of loaves, which was allegorical of the Mass: in the precedent Christ preached to the multitude (Liturgy of the Word) then fed them (Liturgy of the Eucharist); His order for the disciples to organize the crowd in groups anticipates dioceses and parishes nourished with Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist.
The rationally conjectured “sharing” theory negates the Eucharistic theme and rich theology of the Gospel account. It ignores an explicit verse following the question to Philip where they might get food for the multitude: He said this to test him because He Himself knew what He was going to do (Jn 6:6). Corollary verses cohesively point to the meaning and intent: the crowds looking like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34) and abundance of grass (Mk 6:39; Jn 6:10) conjure the image of a shepherd who leads his flock to verdant pastures (Ps 23:2).
The Good Shepherd first satisfies their physical hunger by performing a miracle as the ante to His “bread of life discourse” on food that truly satiates and gives eternal life. To underscore this John mentions the Passover (Jn 6:4) the Jewish memorial (Exo 12:13) of deliverance from bondage fulfilled in the Christian memorial, do this in memory of me (Lk 22:19) initiated at the Last Supper through to Calvary – breaking of bread commemorates our deliverance from death.
If Jesus Christ the Eternal Word assumed human form and was born of a Virgin, healed the sick and all physical infirmities in fulfilment of Messianic prophecies, raised the dead, died on the Cross, resurrected and ascended into heaven, gave His Spirit to the Church, transubstantiated bread and wine into His Body and Blood as real food for over twenty centuries and continues doing so today in over 300,000 daily Masses, what else could the multiplication of loaves have been if not His miracle?
Christ Himself reminds us of His feeding the multitude (Mat 16:9-10; Mk 8:18-20). Do we still not understand? (cf. Mk 8:21; Mat 16:11) All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be (Jn 1:3).
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