The miracle of the loaves and the fish is one of the most important miracles in the New Testament. All four gospels recall it; Mark mentions it twice. The miracle, which foreshadows the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, is about important aspects of the gospel message.
The miracle takes place as a crowd of people follow Jesus into a desert place and he blesses them with nourishing bread and a meal of fish. According to the gospels, they’ve come from their homes, from different towns–some a distance away; they’ve made an effort to see him. Now they’re tired and hungry.
Some may have come just from curiosity or because others brought them along, but Jesus doesn’t multiply the bread and the fish to satisfy curiosity. People were hungry and needed food.
John says people came “because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.” So, probably some of them were sick or brought their sick with them.
Mark’s gospel says the miracle happened because, on seeing the crowd, Jesus’ heart went out to them. “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so be began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6,34)
“Sheep without a shepherd.” They’re looking for direction, for meaning in their lives, for a sense of who they are and what they’re about. And Jesus offers them a shepherd’s care and a teacher’s wisdom.
But they’re hungry. We shouldn’t forget the first reason Jesus gives the crowd bread and the fish. His gospel is practical; feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for those in need. And what he did, he tells those who follow him to do: “What do you have, go and see?”
Let’s not forget the practical demands of this story. At the same time, we know that the hunger Jesus addresses is more than physical hunger. All of us are looking for more than physical food; our hunger is also for the “true bread from heaven that gives life to the world.”
Unlike other miracles Jesus worked, the miracle in the desert benefits, not just one person, it benefits all.
And so, when we come to the Eucharist, we come together to a place where “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” (Psalm 145) We come to Jesus whose heart goes out to us. Once again, he takes bread and gives thanks. “This is my body,” he says. “Take and eat.” This is the cup of my Blood,” he says. “Take and drink.”
And we are satisfied; we receive our Daily Bread. And from what we have, we give to others.