The Return of the Twelve & Feeding of the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17)

The Return of the Twelve and the Feeding of the Five Thousand

10 When the apostles returned, they explained to him what they had done. He took them and withdrew in private to a town called Bethsaida.

11 The crowds, meanwhile, learned of this and followed him. He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured.

12 As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”

13 He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have, unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”

14 Now the men there numbered about five thousand. Then he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of [about] fifty.”

15 They did so and made them all sit down.

16 Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

17 They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.

Spiritual – Formation Takes Time

We return to our “outer” story which, to me, is focused on the Twelve and on their interaction with the people.  This pericope hints that maybe the Twelve aren’t entirely ready to fly solo yet.  That is, they were sent on mission with the specific instructions to take nothing with them because they were supposed to rely on God to provide for their needs.  When they returned home they didn’t say “master it was awful; day after day we had no food and no lodging.”  Instead, they spoke of what they did.  God did provide for their needs, and I’m not saying they took it for granted or were ungrateful, but now that they’ve returned home they don’t seem to think that God will provide for the needs of this multitude of people.

As we continue to encounter the disciples in the upcoming pericopes let’s be especially attentive to them and ask ourselves if they are fully formed, or instead do we see them as works-in-progress.  Because, like these disciples, we are being formed too.  And, like the disciples, it’s under Jesus’ watchful eye that we are being sanctified and shaped for the vocations and ministries that He has selected for each of us.

Spiritual – God Satisfies Our Needs Superabundantly

Make no mistake about it … this is a miracle.  I’ve heard people over the years try to explain it away as if nothing miraculous happened.  I’ve heard it speculated “Well, everyone had some food with them and they all shared with each other.  Also, since they knew there wasn’t much food, everyone was polite and didn’t take much.”  There’s no foundation for such a claim other than someone may just not want to believe in miracles.  But this miracle is performed for more than one reason.  First, it’s for the disciples.  Jesus asked them for the food and their reply was in effect “with what we have we won’t even make a dent; we need to go buy some food.”  Jesus also had them distribute the fishes and loaves so that they could see how much went to feed the people.  Finally, the disciples collected the leftovers so they know that Christ’s miraculous multiplication was superabundant.  And that’s how it is with God … he doesn’t just meet our needs, he exceeds them.

This superabundance, or providing well beyond needs, is also what God does in the Eucharist.  Think about it … doesn’t this scene look familiar?  The crowd sits down – like at Mass.  There is a sermon – like at Mass.  The blessing is said, looking up to heaven, and the bread is broken – like at Mass.  The bread is distributed to the congregation – like at Mass.  And the leftovers are collected – like at Mass.  The superabundance of bread in this pericope symbolizes the superabundance of grace that we receive in the Eucharist at Mass.

So, it’s important that the disciples see the miracle of the multiplication of loaves as part of their formation.  But it’s also important that we see the multiplication as miraculous so that we are more able to see the hand of God in the Mass that we attend.

Our prayerful response can be to ask for the grace to be receptive to God as He forms us as Christ’s disciples.  We can also pray in gratitude for the abundance of grace that God shares with us through the Eucharist.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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