From: Luke 9:11b-17
First Miracle of the Loaves and Fish
[11b] And He (Jesus) welcomed them and spoke to them of the Kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing.  Now the day began to wear away; and the Twelve came and said to Him, "Send the crowd away, to go into the villages and country round about, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a lonely place."  But He said to them, "You give them something to eat." They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish -- unless we are to go and buy food for all these people."  For there were about five thousand men. And He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each."  And they did so, and made them all sit down.  And taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to Heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.  And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
11-17. Jesus replies to His disciples knowing very well what He is going to do (cf. John 6:5-6)--thereby teaching them little by little to trust in God's omnipotence. On this miracle see the notes on Matthew 14:14-21; 15:32; 15:33-38; Mark 6:34; 6:41; 6:42; 8:1-9; and John 6:5-9; 6:10; 6:11; 6:12-13.
[Matthew 14:14-21 states:
14-21. This episode must have occurred in the middle of springtime, because the grass was green (Mark 6:40; John 6:10). In the Near East loaves were usually made very thin, which meant it was easy to break them by hand and distribute them to those at table; this was usually done by the head of the household or the senior person at the meal. Our Lord follows this custom, and the miracle occurs when Jesus breaks the bread. The disciples then distribute it among the crowd. Here again we can see Jesus' desire to have people cooperate with Him.]
[Matthew 15:32 states:
32. The Gospels speak of our Lord's mercy and compassion towards people's needs: here He is concerned about the crowds who are following Him and who have no food. He always has a word of consolation, encouragement and forgiveness: He is never indifferent. However, what hurts Him most are sinners who go through life without experiencing light and truth: He waits for them in the sacraments of Baptism and Penance.]
[Matthew 15:33-38 states:
33-38. As in the case of the first multiplication (14:13-20), the Apostles provide our Lord with the loaves and the fish. It was all they had. He also avails of the Apostles to distribute the food -- the result of the miracle -- to the people. In distributing the graces of salvation God chooses to rely on the faithfulness and generosity of men. "Many great things depend--don't forget it--on whether you and I live our lives as God wants" (St. J. Escriva, "The Way", 755).
It is interesting to note that in both miracles of multiplication of loaves and fish Jesus's provides food in abundance but does not allow anything to go to waste. All Jesus' miracles, in addition to being concrete historical events, are also symbols of supernatural realities. Here abundance of material food also signifies abundance of divine gifts on the level of grace and glory: it refers spiritual resources and eternal rewards; God gives people more graces than are strictly necessary. This is borne out by Christian experience throughout history. St. Paul tells us that "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20); he speaks of "the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us" (Eph 1:8) and tells his disciple Timothy that "the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:14).]
[Mark 6:34 states:
34. Our Lord had planned a period of rest, for Himself and His disciples, from the pressures of the apostolate (Mark 6:31-32). And He has to change His plans because so many people come, eager to hear Him speak. Not only is He not annoyed with them: He feels compassion on seeing their spiritual need. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). They need instruction and our Lord wants to meet this need by preaching to them. "Jesus is moved by hunger and sorrow, but what moves Him most is ignorance" (St. J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 109).]
[Mark 6:41 states:
41. This miracle is a figure of the Holy Eucharist: Christ performed it shortly before promising that sacrament (cf. John 6:1ff), and the Fathers have always so interpreted it. In this miracle Jesus shows His supernatural power and His love for men -- the same power and love as make it possible for Christ's one and only body to be present in the Eucharistic species to nourish the faithful down the centuries. In the words of the sequence composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Mass of Corpus Christi: "Be one or be a thousand fed, they eat alike that living bread which, still received, ne'er wastes away."
This gesture of our Lord -- looking up to Heaven -- is recalled in the Roman canon of the Mass: "And looking up to Heaven, to You, His almighty Father." At this point in the Mass we are preparing to be present at a miracle greater than that of the multiplication of the loaves--the changing of bread into His own body, offered as food for all men.]
[Mark 6:42 states:
42. Christ wanted the leftovers to be collected (cf. John 6:12) to teach us not to waste things God gives us, and also to have them as a tangible proof of the miracle.
The collecting of the leftovers is a way of showing us the value of little things done out of love for God--orderliness, cleanliness, finishing things completely. It also reminds the sensitive believer of the extreme care that must be taken of the Eucharistic species. Also, the generous scale of the miracle is an expression of the largesse of the Messianic times. The Fathers recall that Moses distributed the manna for each to eat as much as he needed but some left part of it for the next day and it bred worms (Exodus 16:16-20). Elijah gave the widow just enough to meet her needs (1 Kings 17:13-16). Jesus, on the other hand, gives generously and abundantly.]
[Mark 8:1-9 states:
1-9. Jesus repeats the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish: the first time (Mark 6:33-44) He acted because He saw a huge crowd like "sheep with a shepherd"; now He takes pity on them because they have been with Him for three days and have nothing to eat.
This miracle shows how Christ rewards people who persevere in following Him: the crowd had been hanging on His words, forgetful of everything else. We should be like them, attentive and ready to do what He commands, without any vain concern about the future, for that would amount to distrusting Divine Providence.]
[John 6:5-9 states:
5-9. Jesus is sensitive to people's material and spiritual needs. Here we see Him take the initiative to satisfy the hunger of the crowd of people who have been following Him.
Through these conversations and the miracle He is going to work, Jesus also teaches His disciples to trust in Him whenever they meet up with difficulties in their apostolic endeavors in the future: they should engage in them using whatever resources they have--even if they are plainly inadequate, as was the case with the five loaves and two fish. He will supply what is lacking. In the Christian life we must put what we have at the service of our Lord, even if we do not think it amounts to very much. He can make meager resources productive.
"We must, then, have faith and not be dispirited. We must not be stopped by any kind of human calculation. To overcome the obstacles we have to throw ourselves into the task so that the very effort we make will open up new paths" (St. J. Escriva, "Christ is Passing By", 160).]
[John 6:10 states:
10. The evangelist gives us an apparently unimportant piece of information: "there was much grass in the place." This indicates that the miracle took place in the height of the Palestinian spring, very near the Passover, as mentioned in verse 4. There are very few big meadows in Palestine; even today there is one on the eastern bank of the Lake of Gennesaret, called El-Batihah, where five thousand people could fit seated: it may have been the site of this miracle.]
[John 6:11 states:
11. The account of the miracle begins with almost the very same words as those which the Synoptics and St. Paul use to describe the institution of the Eucharist (cf. Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:25). This indicates that the miracle, in addition to being an expression of Jesus' mercy towards the needy, is a symbol of the Blessed Eucharist, about which our Lord will speak a little later on (cf. John 6:26-59).]
[John 6:12-13 states:
12-13. The profusion of detail shows how accurate this narrative is -- the names of the Apostles who address our Lord (verses 5,8), the fact that they were barley loaves (verse 9), the boy who provided the wherewithal (verse 9) and, finally, Jesus telling them to gather up the leftovers.
This miracle shows Jesus' divine power over matter, and His largesse recalls the abundance of messianic benefits which the prophets had foretold (cf. Jeremiah 31:14).
Christ's instruction to pick up the leftovers teaches us that material resources are gifts of God and should not be wasted: they should be used in a spirit of poverty (cf. note on Mark 6:42). In this connection Paul VI pointed out that "after liberally feeding the crowds, the Lord told His disciples to gather up what was left over, lest anything should be lost (cf. John 6:12). What an excellent lesson in thrift -- in the finest and fullest meaning of the term -- for our age, given as it is to wastefulness! It carries with it the condemnation of a whole concept of society wherein consumption tends to become an end in itself, with contempt for the needy, and to the detriment, ultimately, of those very people who believed themselves to be its beneficiaries, having become incapable of perceiving that man is called to a higher destiny" (Pope Paul VI, "Address to Participants at the World Food Conference", 9 November 1974).]
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and by Scepter Publishers in the United States. We encourage readers to purchase The Navarre Bible for personal study. See Scepter Publishers for details.