It was only in Lent, a few short months ago, that we had almost this exact same Gospel reading. Only then, it was the feeding of the 5,000 with fives loaves and two fish; now 4,000 are fed with seven loaves and some fish. But why the repeat? Aside from the fact that it happened twice, is there another reason? And why does the Church offer us BOTH accounts to be read only months apart from each other?
The point, I suspect, for both the original disciples and for us as we track along with them, is to ask ourselves if we’ve learned anything. Back in Lent, Jesus had tossed his disciples an insoluble problem: Too many people, not enough food, what to do? They flubbed the test, you recall. They focused precisely on the vastness of the difficulty; on the meagerness of their own resources; and they did what they should never have done. They took their eyes off of the Lord.
Instead of glancing at the problem and the resources, and then turning to Jesus and asking Him what He wanted them to do, they tried to figure things out with their own smarts and calculations. Wrong. Have they learned anything? It’s been a few months. Do they remember?
Do you? Since Lent have any difficulties come your way? Have you had situations where you were faced with overwhelming demands? Have you run short of bread? Of cash? Of patience? Of time? Of energy? Have you felt frazzled, overwhelmed, certain that there was no way out? Have you ben boxed in and buried beneath a boatload of trouble? The question is: where have your eyes been?
In today’s Gradual Psalm 34 is cited: “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Where are you looking? You can focus on your difficulties. You can focus on how little you have. You can focus on how overwhelming everything is. The cost of gas, of food, the demands of your family, your job. Or, you do the smart thing. You can look to your Jesus – not give Him a passing glance on Sunday morning, but FIX your eyes on Him. You can learn in these kinds of moments to keep your eyes trained on His face, and let the peace that shines forth from His eyes, fill you and chase away all the fears, all the anxieties, the fretting and the fuming. You can look to your Jesus, and He will give you peace.
And because like the disciples we keep on flubbing that test, the Lord presents another opportunity. Other situations too big to handle, too hopeless. “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” The whole answer was right there. He’s the compassionate one. He won’t send His people away hungry and fainting. He will supply what they need. He’ll set a table for them, though it be in the wilderness.
But the disciples don’t let His words sink in. They simply thought about how impossible the whole situation is: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Just like they’d not experienced the miracle before, the loaves multiplying in their very hands, unable to outgive the Lord Jesus as He kept supplying the food.
Did He sigh? Did He cry out: “O you of little faith! How long shall I put up with you?” Not a word of it in this Gospel. Rather, He patiently begins it all again. “How many loaves do you have?” Seven. Then taking, giving thanks, breaking, and giving them to set before the people. This time the leftovers running to not 12 baskets full, but seven. And having faithfully fed both their souls and their bodies, He sends the people away.
And so He does with you. Same miracle. He teaches, and then He takes some bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives away. He reaches to you in that bread His true body and blood with forgiveness for all your sins. The body and blood that were on the cross for all the times you’ve let your eyes slip from His face, for all the times you’ve allowed the worry and fear to eat up your heart. The body and blood that answered for all your doubt about the Father’s love and provision for you – both in temporal and in eternal things. Jesus gives you His body and blood, multiplying them upon the countless altars of His Church, and His people eat them with joy and gratitude and experience once again that the God who took care of our greatest need can certainly be trusted to take care of the other little things besides. He who gave His Son to bear our sin to forgive it, to die our death to destroy it, He will not let you down. As St. Paul said so comfortingly: “He who did not spare His only Son, but gave him up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
Where are eyes? Today once again your Jesus invites you to fix them solidly upon Him and His face. To look to Him in faith and nowhere else. Then your face will indeed be radiant – shining with an unshakable peace, a fathomless joy. For then you will know that there is nothing that you will ever have to come up against that is mightier than His love for you. And when you know that, you can live without fear. “Come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”