In the 1960s it was rather trendy to try to explain away the miracle in today’s Gospel, using the Stone Soup theory. Of course, there would be no point in telling this story at all unless it was for the purpose of reporting another miracle of Christ. People who need to try to explain away miracles really do not need to be reading the Bible, since they cannot make sense of any of it. Either believe the story or don’t; but don’t play with it.
The problem is partly a philosophical void: the Rationalist cannot use his mind rationally. Anyone who notices that the universe just happens to exist, is living all the time with the evidence of the first miracle of the Bible, the Creatio ex nihilo. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” To make everything out of nothing is much more impressive than the multiplication of existing material, a little bit of bread and fish to feed thousands. I believe that we need not fear that the Church will vanish away from the earth, or that the Gospel of Christ will disappear. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, we have a Divine promise that His word will always be taught faithfully. “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15).”
Notice, in today’s Gospel the miracle came at a time of need, since there was no food for the people in the wilderness, just as there had been no food when the people came out of Egypt and were in that wilderness. The manna came in the days of Moses, and Jesus fed thousands of people on this day with next to nothing. In scripture, we often see miracles coming in the time of need. Imagine the people with Pharaoh’s army behind them, and the Red Sea before them. This was a perfect setting for God to show the power of His hand. The people who seemed to be in the greatest danger were the ones who, as it turned out, lived through the experience; safer to be one of those escaping slaves on the shore than to be in the mighty army, because everything was in the hands of God. The former slaves went forward on dry land in the midst of the sea, forward into freedom and the Promised Land; and the mighty army drowned.
The fact is we all are on the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians coming up after us. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (I Cor. 15:19).” We all need a miracle, because we shall most surely die- unless the Lord returns first. Even so, those who are alive at that time will have to die to this life, and shed their mortal nature.
Among Satan’s ministers, preaching in many pulpits today, the mission is to destroy your hope and joy, and to restore to you the terror of the grave. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 15:57).” We have the food and drink of eternal life, given to us by Christ Himself. When we read on in this sixth chapter of John, after Jesus walked across the lake, the multitudes came and met Him on the other shore.
Ultimately, that is the greater message of this Gospel passage. The Lord Jesus multiplied these loaves and fish because He was teaching, by this miracle, that He Himself is “the True Bread that comes down from heaven, which, if man eat thereof, he shall live forever.” He taught that His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed, and that by Him we are nourished with eternal life.
He commanded that the fragments left over from this miracle be gathered up and that nothing be lost. In this world, first by His creation, and then even more so by His coming in the flesh as fully God and fully Man, material things can take on the quality of holiness. This bread was too holy to be treated with disdain and left to spoil. And, it was only a mere symbol of this bread and wine, which will become the Reality of His Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament of this altar. If you wonder why we go to so much trouble not to profane the sacrament, to preserve it set apart in the tabernacle, remember this story. It was a miracle that only served to shadow this greater miracle that will happen here today; it was used by Christ to teach that we must feed on Him, and do so in faith, to have His risen life within us.
The miracle of His resurrection is our hope for the future. We depend on the God of miracles to give us our share in Christ’s resurrection.