From the time we were created in our mother’s womb, nutrition and hydration became an essential part of our growth. Whether they were simple or lavish, cheap or expensive, food is an indispensable part of the human growth. We recognise that food is one of the basic necessities of humans, and it is accepted that it stands first among all basic needs – food, shelter, and clothing. Since food is critical to each of us, we must remember that food is not just a necessity but also a human right. That is why the Church makes it immoral to deny or withdraw nutrition and hydration from the vulnerable – children, the poor, terminally ill, and many others who may struggle to put food on the table daily.
In the gospel today, we are presented with the scene where Jesus multiplies the food for the multitude. The miracle of the five loaves and two fish is narrated in all four gospels. The fact that in each of the accounts there are differing details, there is a possibility that Jesus may have performed the miracle of multiplying food more than just once.
It doesn’t really matter how many times Jesus fed the multitude but there is a key message in this narrative. The miracle that Jesus performs is not just to express or demonstrate Jesus’ power and ability to do all things. Just like how God gave “manna” to the wandering Israelites in the desert, the Son of God now feeds the multitude also in a “lonely place”.
The miracle of the loaves also implicitly shows that Jesus recognises that every human being has a right to food. If we look closely at today’s gospel, the people were gathered in a “lonely place” where Jesus and His disciples had gone hoping to escape the crowds and be by themselves. How would it have been possible for them to find food when it was already evening and the nearest villages may possibly be some miles away?
In performing this great miracle, Jesus prefigures the role of the Church that is yet to be established – to provide nourishment to all those who come to her. It has to be remembered that the Church nourishes the believers at various levels and in a variety of different ways. For many of us, we have been taught that God’s love is nourishing us still and is available through the Eucharist in the Church. However, the COVID-19 pandemic took that link to the Eucharist away from us.
During these times of anxiety and isolation, nourishing our faith has become more important. Personal or family prayers, reading and meditating on the Word of God, the rosary and other devotions, and reading spiritual reflections are only but some ways where our faith can be continually nourished as we wait eagerly to return to Mass. However, if we do not do any of these, recline on our couches and continue to grumble about the inability to go to Mass or why that some can and others cannot, then we fail miserably in seeing God also working beyond the confines of the Mass.
The “right to food” is for physical development but the “right to feed the soul” for spiritual development is the duty of a follower-disciple of Jesus. If we stretch our imagination a little wider, the “miracle of the loaves” can take place anywhere and anytime God chooses. When we consciously set aside time to be in the presence of God, whether in prayer or reading, our souls are being nourished by God – thus the miracle of the loaves continues. Amen.