The miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish is so central to the Gospel that it appears in all four Gospels. The miracle draws a contrast between worldly banquets and heavenly feasts; worldly banquets: represented by Herod’s birthday celebration, and heavenly feast: represented by God’s compassion on those whose first hunger was for the spiritual nourishment of the Eternal Word of God.
Matthew’s account of the miracle, which we read in today’s Gospel, begins with a reference to the death of John the Baptist at the hand of Herod -- a death that occurred within the context of a worldly banquet. Herod was certainly drunk when he promised a dancing little girl that he would give her anything – anything – that she asked for. Who in his or her right mind makes such a promise? Suppose she asked for the Herod’s torso? Would he have given that? Something in me makes me want to ask: “Why did God allow this injustice?”
Worldly parties and banquets are often accompanied with drunken orgies and do not fail to end in one disaster or another. Revelers are every so often at the tipping point of ineptness, needing a tiny trigger to descend into arguments, fights and other dangerous behaviors.
In contrast, those who seek the nourishment of the Word of God, like today’s 5000 plus, leave the feast with full baskets of love and affection which they exude and share with others. When we surrender our poverty and insufficiency, our mere five loaves handed to the Lord can multiply into bastions of contentment. In the Eucharist, we’re constantly challenged to bring both our loving concerns (loaves) and our interminable efforts (fish) so the Lord can multiply our love and crown our efforts for the purpose of meeting the needs of a world hungry for true nourishment that only He can bring. The Eucharist is truly a love feast.
But like the apostles, we want to save our five loaves. The hungry, we aver, should figure out for themselves how they’ll get fed; it’s not up to us to take care of these needs. We argue that we hardly have enough even for ourselves. But according to Fulton Sheen, the word “enough” is not in love’s vocabulary. We fear that by giving, we incur loss. However, the contrary is true: We gain by losing. What remains after our story is told is what we gave out. Mother Theresa once said, “We have to be ready to do the ridiculous for the Lord to turn it into the miraculous?” She echoes the words of Jesus in John 12:24 that “a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it drops to the ground and dies.” The miraculous growth of wheat in numerous wheat farms across the country happens each year because single grains of wheat give up their own existence and die. The survival of the human race depends on the principle of self-sacrifice. When God said, “increase and multiply,” He meant that mom should give up her freedom for nine months in order to bring her baby to the world, and that both mom and dad spend many years raising the baby. Societies that fear self-sacrifice cease to be. The West will go extinct if it carries on with the policies of selfishness, contraception and abortion. We should not be afraid to share what we have, to give until it hurts. Jesus tells us today: “Give them something to eat, yourselves.”