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XVI.-THE FEEDING OF FIVE THOUSAND
THE eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee has always been less populous than the western, and to it our Lord used to retire when He or His disciples were worn out with their labours on the other side of the lake. We read that after the murder of St. John the Baptist, He took the disciples there for rest and quiet. They went to a desert place near Bethsaida, not the Bethsaida near Capernaum in Galilee, but a town newly built by Philip the Tetrarch, to the east of the Sea of Galilee.
Our Lord and His disciples crossed the sea in a ship, but the people who had been about Him in His own country, eager for teaching and the healing of their sick, went round by land and waited till He came among them again. It was near the time of the Passover, and no doubt many of these people were on their way to Jerusalem to keep the feast. They shewed great zeal in following the Lord. They esteemed His words more than their necessary food, and so He put forth His Divine power to satisfy their hunger. St. John, who relates so few miracles, relates this one, as do the other three Evangelists. His account of it in chapter vi. 5–14, is read as the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Lent and the Sunday next before Advent. The history is also given in St. Matthew, xiv. 15–21; St. Mark, vi. 34-44, and St. Luke, ix. 12-17. It is the only miracle related by all the four Evangelists.
When Jesus then lifted up His eyes, and saw a great company come unto Him, He saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (And this He said to prove him : for He Himself knew what He would do.) Philip answered Him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto Him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes : but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when He had given thanks, He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world.
It was spring time, and the grass stood tall and thick on the rich plain at the mouth of the Jordan, when our merciful Saviour came down upon it from the mountain to which He had gone on landing from the ship. Crowds of people stood on that plain, and He healed them that had need of healing, and taught those who desired teaching. Towards evening the disciples grew uneasy at the sight of so large a multitude,
without food in such a lonely place. They begged our Lord to dismiss them; how astonished they must have felt' when He said, “They need not depart; give ye them to eat. Then He asked Philip how they should be fed. Philip only thought of the large sum of money it would take to buy them bread. But St. Andrew spoke of a lad with five barley loaves and two small fishes. Our Lord took these, and prepared from them to spread a table in the wilderness.
But 'God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” For the sake of order the people must be arranged so as to sit in parties of fifty or a hundred on the fresh green grass. It was the custom of our Lord to take bread into His hands, and bless it, or give thanks. He did so at His last supper. He did so when He sat at meat with His two disciples at Emmaus. He did so now; and then when He gave of those loaves and fishes through His disciples to the multitude, there was enough for all. Nay, there was more than enough. They took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
It is no wonder that the people who saw this miracle, acknowledged Jesus of Nazareth to be that Prophet that should come into the world the Prophet like unto Moses, of whom he spake.* Moses had fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, and here in the wilderness did the Lord Jesus feed their children. He was that Prophet, and more. It is He that satisfieth the desire of every living thing. The eyes of all wait upon Him. He gives them meat in due season. Therefore we should take no thought, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink? "1 Cor. xiv. 33.
? St. Luke, xxii. 19. * St. Luke, xxiv. 30.
* Deut. xviii. 15.
He has said of the man that feareth Him and walketh righteously, ' Bread shall be given him ; his waters shall be sure.'1
Thou Who while dwelling bere on earth,
Five loaves and fishes two didst bless,
Five thousand in the wilderness;
O hearken as in prayer we bow,
O Food Divine, Ó King of kings,
And fill the hungry with good things.'
XVII.-CHRIST WALKS UPON THE SEA.
The feast was over, the fragments had been gathered up, and our Lord had sent His disciples across the lake to the other side, from which they had come that afternoon. It is clear that they did not wish to go. Perhaps they did not like to leave their Master's side. Perhaps they observed the people's desire to take Him by force and make Him a king, and they wished to be beside Him at a time of worldly honour and glory. But He sent them away, and dismissed the multitude by Himself. St. Matthew relates the miracle that followed, in chapter xiv. 23–33. We read it also in St. Mark, vi. 47-52, and St. John, vi. 16–21.
And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone,
Isaiah, xxxiii. 16.
But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves : for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is Ì; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid ; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.
This is the second time that we read of the disciples in a storm at sea. The first time it was by day, and their Master was with them, though asleep. Now it was by night, and they were alone. He was teaching them, by degrees, to walk by faith and not by sight. The wind was contrary, and the sea was rough, like a huge boiling caldron, as one traveller says he saw it. But all the time He was watching them. As He saw the affliction of the children of Israel, while they were in bondage in Egypt,' so now He saw His disciples toiling in rowing.
In the fourth watch of the night, that is between three and six
* Exodus, iii. 7.