You Give Them Something to Eat

“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16)

In the account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus invites His apostles to feed a crowd which likely exceeded 15,000 people!  How could the Apostles obtain sufficient food for this mandate?  Interestingly the Apostles would be the ones to distribute this miraculous meal, but they were not the ones to purchase or create it.  Jesus blessed the bread and fish, then Sunday’s Gospel records, “Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” (v 19b).

Through the centuries theologians have seen a connection between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of God’s people in the Lord’s Supper.  Parallel to the Eucharist, Jesus blesses the food, breaks the bread, and then gives to the Apostles for distribution.  Though this meal for the 5,000 men is NOT a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, yet it is a Holy Supper celebrated in the presence of the One who blessed the food.  Though we cannot see the Lord Christ when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, yet He is every bit as present as when He fed the 5,000.  Interestingly early church art also frequently depicted the Lord’s Supper as a meal of fish, no doubt calling to mind all the miraculous fish-meals blessed by Jesus, uniquely reminiscent of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and then the feeding of the 4,000.  Oscar Cullmann explains, “Early Christian art frequently represents the Lord’s Supper under the form of a meal of fish.”[1]

A person seeking Christian truth might ask how it is possible that Christ could, in Holy Communion, sacrificially feed the millions of Christians throughout the centuries with His “finite” body and blood.  As if anticipating this question, Jesus, as recorded in all four Gospels, fed the 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish—with more left after the meal than when the meal began.  Including women and children, the number that Jesus fed likely exceeded 15,000!  Christ truly and miraculously fed around 15,000 people with merely a handful of bread and fish.  If Christ can feed 15,000 with the truly finite elements of fish and bread, can He not feed millions His body in which the fullness of deity dwells?  In the Lord’s Supper Christ, though His flesh and blood are truly eaten, is not consumed or used up; the body and blood of Christ will not run out, something taught by the continually flowing bread in this miraculous feeding of the 15,000.

As the Apostle Paul rehearses the foundational meaning of the Sacrament of the Altar in his first letter to the Corinthians, he rhetorically reminds us, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16). Though this verse is rightly used to explain the belief in the Real Presence, note also that Apostolic distribution of the Sacrament underlies the verse.  The cup of blessing that WE BLESS…The bread that WE BREAK.  The “we” doing the blessing of the cup and the breaking of the bread is indeed the Apostles and then those who carry on this Apostolic work as pastors.  Though Christ’s blessing at the institution of the Sacrament is the source and power behind the miracle of the Lord’s Supper, yet even as He told the Apostles at the feeding of the 5,000, “…you give them something to eat,” so it continues today as the Apostles and those continuing their work are called upon to give God’s people the holiest food.  It is a food far holier than the bread and fish in the feeding of the 5,000, for it is the very body and blood of God.

[1] Oscar Cullmann and F. J. Leenhardt, Essays on the Lord’s Supper, (London:  Lutterworth Press, 1958), First Essay:  “The Breaking of Bread and the Resurrection Appearances,” 10.