Miracle of the Loaves


Only one miracle of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels — the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

I once heard a homilist give what he said was the real meaning of the story: the people in the crowd took out food they were hiding under their cloaks and shared it.  Jesus’ preaching inspired the melting of selfishness, and this was the true miracle according to this preacher.

My kids would call such preaching hopelessly lame!

This was a needy crowd.  They could not feed themselves or each other.  They could not heal themselves or each other.  Jesus was moved with pity and was ready to provide them all that they needed.  The apostles wanted to send them away to fend for themselves.

And this hits upon the grain of truth contained in the lame interpretation we’ve just mentioned.  Though this story is about truly supernatural, miraculous action, it is not about God creating something out of nothing.  He says to the apostles “you give them something to eat yourselves.”  He had to be joking, they must have thought to themselves.  They had nothing, or almost nothing.  Just five loaves and two fish — scarcely enough to serve as an appetizer for themselves, never mind the crowd.  But the apostles sheepishly complied when Jesus ordered that they surrender their scanty food supply.  He blessed this meager offering and the miracle happened.  It was not only enough, but after thousands had eaten their fill, there was more left over than what they’d started with in the first place.

It never ceases to amaze me at how much energy we put into making excuses.  “I don’t even earn enough to feed my own family, how can I be expected to give?”  “I haven’t studied the faith enough to be a religious education teacher.”  “I trip over my words when I try to explain my faith — I’ll just evangelize through good example.”

Our financial resources, talents, and holiness are clearly inadequate to meet the needs of a hungry and confused world.  But what else is new?  This gospel commands us to offer these resources anyway, trusting that He will multiply them.  Who could have guessed how God would multiply the loaves and fishes offered by an Albanian nun named Teresa when she walked into the slums of Calcutta?  Imagine if she had said “no, Lord, this is beyond me.”  Imagine if Peter had not reconsidered after saying, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).  Imagine if the apostles had saved the five loaves and fish for themselves instead of wasting them on a crowd that wouldn’t have been satisfied with them anyway.

“But,” you may protest, “isn’t this miracle story about the Eucharist?”  Absolutely.  In the Eucharist we bring the very ordinary work of our hands, bread and wine, and join to this the offering of our very ordinary lives.  Through the invocation of the Spirit and the Word of God, this offering is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life and the Cup of eternal salvation.  We offer him the work of our hands and our broken humanity, and he transforms these things into perfect humanity and life-giving divinity.  And with this he not only feeds us but empowers us to feed the whole world.

This transformation, this multiplication, is a supernatural marvel that is the source of other marvels.  In fact, if we to unpack just a fraction more of the miraculous power contained in the Eucharist, we, the Church and the world would be forever different.

And that’s why Pope John Paul II proclaimed a Year of the Eucharist that proved to be the climax of his pontificate — that in meditating more on this astounding gift, we would be prompted to quit holding back.  He has given all and asks for all in return.  Not so he can take it away, but rather so that He can multiply it.


About Author

Grew up in Providence RI. BA at Providence college, Ph.D. in historical theology from Catholic University of America. Former professional musician and theology professor at Loyola College in Maryland and the University of Dallas. Currently owner of Wellness Business Ventures LLC and director of CrossroadsInitiative.com. Father of five.

  • “I once heard a homilist give what he said was the real meaning of the story: the people in the crowd took out food they were hiding under their cloaks and shared it. Jesus’ preaching inspired the melting of selfishness, and this was the true miracle according to this preacher.”

    Yes. That is the usual interpretation of the priests of the liberashun zeology which is another way of describing those who suffer from Bolshevik Retardation Syndrome. If we all share then we will all have more, twelve baskets more than what we started with. This moment of obscurity brought to you by the same school that got you “if we all pay more taxes we shall be a more affluent society.”

    Now, I belong to the superstitious medieval ignoramus part of the Church. You can recognize us in the pews, we are the ones rolling our eyes like Linda Blair in The Exorcist every time father pulls a doozie like that.

    I am proud to confess that I have read Karl Marx and I find it supremely boring and wrong. To use Bearded Chuck’s own words: “this matter of the surviving meta-historical values in our societies must be explained, we must explain its influence or else Dialectic Materialism is toast!” A toast! I drink to that. The miracle did not materialize when the Soviet Commissars forced everyone in the USSR to share his/her lunch. Obviously only Jesus could pull one like that, with no tanks and no KGB. But I digress…

    I say that calling Phillip (the practical, educated man among the twelve) and asking him to fix lunch about 8,500 miles from Pizzeria Uno was the way Jesus confronted his body of bishops with the reality of 5,000+ empty bellies. The whole committee of problem solvers could do nothing. To save the day comes a little boy with a few fishes and a few barley loaves, the product of being up early to grind some barley and go fishing (otherwise known to those Neanderthals as individual initiative, work and dedication–obviously he did not know about Section 8 and the Food Stamp Program, otherwise he would have been taking a nappy.) So Jesus takes the meager contribution (presumably after giving the boy one or two copper coins for his mom) and starts multiplying bread like nobody’s business. The greatest thing since the chariot (slice bread was a few centuries in the future.)

    In the end the 5,000+ hungry travelers were fed and (to rub it in) Jesus sends the bishops on doggy-bag duty and they come back each with a mean basket full of leftovers. Jesus did not want anything to go to “waist” that is He did not want the people to hide it under their cloaks one more time… oh.. let me read that again. It is “waste” you dummy! What a maroon I am! Of course! But this would indicate we have a surplus! Where did the extra munchies come from? I am sure you have to read a lot of Albert Nolan and Leonardo Boff to make this thing square! Look at that! This Jesus must have been somethin’! Where did he get all that chow? Ah… he must have had some divine powers to make things appear from nothing, like evolutionists make DNA appear from lighting hitting a can of Campbell soup or Soviet courts make witnesses materialize in the docket declaring they saw their mothers teaching other babushkas that Stalin does not exist.

    Like I told you before, I am a complete ignoramus and I live in the mountains. But even here we would be astonished if a regular Billy Bob pulls one catfish sandwich out of his empty raccon skin hat. Should it ever happen I’m sure we can hit him hard with that old dusty volume of Das Kapital. That will teach him to fake miraculls!

    • Mary Kochan

      Classic. Absolutely classic.