- Analysis of the narrative's structure
The text proposed for the liturgy begins in v. 11, but in order to understand this story properly we must begin in v. 10. Its structure is very simple.
Introduction: context and geographical location
-v.10 The disciples return from their mission and Jesus organizes a form of retreat with them in a isolated place near the town of Bethsaida.
- Jesus teaches and heals
-v.11a The crowds are looking for him and find him
-v.11b Jesus welcomes the crowds by teaching about God's world
-v.11c Jesus heals those in need
- Jesus feeds the crowd in the evening through the disciples
- Presentation of the problem by the Twelve
-v.12 It's evening and the place is desolated, and people need to eat
- Solution proposed by Jesus
-v.13a Let the Twelve feed the crowd themselves
- Objection of the Twelve
-v.13b We don't have what it takes to feed the crowd
-v.14a There are 5,000 people
- Action of Jesus
- v.14b Jesus asked the Twelve to seat the crowd in groups of fifty
- v.15 Action completed by the Twelve
- v.16 Jesus blesses the loaves and fishes, breaks them, gives them to the Twelve to offer to the crowd
- v.17a The crowd is completely satiated
- v.17b We take 12 baskets of food that was left
- It is important to begin the analysis of the structure of the narrative in v.10 with the return of the Twelve from their mission. For it is they, the Twelve, who are at the center of the narrative. Have you noticed that there is no word from the crowd? They are only there to allow the Twelve to continue their mission. V.10 mentions that the Twelve return from their mission, and when faced with the problem of a hungry crowd, Jesus tells the Twelve to solve the problem, and finally they are the ones who seat the crowd and distribute the food. In short, the mission of the Twelve continues with our story.
- There is a connection between A (Jesus teaches and heals) and B (Jesus feeds the crowd). B is an extension of A: Jesus feeds the crowd in various ways, through his teaching, his healings and physical food. The way is paved for the Twelve who are called to continue this action.
- This story is usually referred to as the miracle of the feeding of the crowd. However, we do not find the five usual steps of a miracle story: 1) a petitioner who presents his problem; 2) attitude of faith; 3) word of Jesus; 4) confirmation of an extraordinary result; 5) reaction of the audience. In our story we do not have steps 1, 2 and 5: there is no petitioner who presents his problem to Jesus and asks him to act, there is no expression of an attitude of faith on the part of the Twelve or the crowd, and surprisingly, no one is impressed at the end by the extraordinary results, not even the Twelve.
- Context analysis
It is not easy to delineate the larger context of the story. Often, indications of time are used. In our case, we will use the expression "Now one day" from Luke 8:22 to mark the beginning of the larger context, and the expression "Now as the time came" from Luke 9:51 to mark the end and the beginning of another. So let us examine this broad context by going through the sequence of stories.
- Jesus stills a storm (Luke 8: 22-25)
- The disciples and Jesus pass by boat from the western side of the Lake of Galilee to its eastern side
- A whirlwind blows down on the boat and threatens it
- The disciples wake Jesus to inform him of the danger
- Jesus threatens the wind and the waves calm down
- Jesus reproaches them for their lack of faith and the disciples question Jesus' identity
- Exorcism of Jesus in a pagan country (Luke 8: 26-39)
- A demon-possessed man comes to meet them when they get out of the boat in the land of the Gerasenes
- Negotiations of the man and his demons with Jesus at the time of the exorcism: the demons do not want to return to the abyss but prefer to enter the pigs
- The demons enter the pigs, which rush from the top of the escarpment into the lake and drown
- Seized with fear, the people ask Jesus to go away from them
- Jesus and the disciples get into the boat and go back
- The former possessed man wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus suggests instead that he return home to give testimony
- Healing of a woman and resuscitation of Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:40-56)
- On his return, a synagogue leader, Jairus, begs Jesus to come to his home to heal his only twelve-year-old daughter who is dying
- On the way to the house of Jairus, a woman, suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years, touches the fringe of his garment from behind and is instantly healed
- Jesus asks who touched him and the woman tremblingly confesses her action and her healing
- Jesus tells him that it was faith that saved him
- On arriving at Jairus' house, he is told that the girl is dead and that everything is useless, but Jesus invites Jairus to faith, enters the house with Peter, John and James and brings the girl back to life
- The parents are upset, but Jesus invites them to silence
- Mission of the Twelve (Luke 9: 1-6)
- Jesus sends the Twelve to proclaim the Kingdom of God (God's world) and heal diseases
- He asked them to leave without any money and with the minimum of clothing, and to rely on the hospitality of the people
- Herod Antipas' questioning of Jesus' identity (Luke 9:7-9)
- Faced with the event Jesus, Herod is perplexed and wonders about his identity
- Jesus feeds the crowd (Luke 9: 10-17)
- After returning from their mission, the Twelve and Jesus retire to a desolated place around the town of Bethsaida, in the eastern part of the lake
- When it was late and the crowd had to eat, Jesus suggested that the Twelve feed the crowd themselves
- Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish, blesses and breaks them, and asks the Twelve to offer them to the crowd, who are filled with them
- Peter's profession of faith and first announcement of his passion (Luke 9: 18-22)
- In a moment of prayer Jesus asks his disciples about his identity
- Peter answers that he is the messiah of God
- Jesus asks the disciples to keep the secret and announces that he will have to suffer and die before rising again
- The condition of the disciple (Luke 9: 23-27)
- The disciple is the one who takes up his cross to follow Jesus and accepts to lose his life
- The disciple is never ashamed of Jesus and his words
- The experience of a transfigured Jesus (Luke 9: 28-36)
- Eight days later, Peter, John and James accompanied Jesus in his prayer on a mountain
- During the prayer, the disciples experience a transfigured Jesus, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, discussing his upcoming passion and death
- Peter wants to prolong the experience, when a cloud covers them and a voice tells them to listen to the one who is the beloved and chosen Son of God
- The disciples will keep silent afterwards about this experience
- An exorcism of Jesus (Luke 9: 37-43)
- When they came down from the mountain the next day, a crowd was waiting for them and, above all, a man asked Jesus to heal his son who was possessed and whom his disciples had failed to heal.
- After reproaching people for their lack of faith, Jesus performs an exorcism
- People are struck by the greatness of God
- Second announcement of his passion (Luke 9: 44-45)
- As people marvel at Jesus' actions, he warns his disciples that he will be arrested
- Attitude of the true disciple: identify with the least (Luke 9: 46-48)
- To the disciples who ask who is the greatest, Jesus answers by identifying himself with a child and asking them to welcome him, because the greatest is the one who is the least
- Attitude of the true disciple: not to prevent the good done by others (Luke 9: 49-50)
- To John who wanted to prevent someone outside the group from doing exorcisms, Jesus replies that anyone who is not an opponent is in fact a partner
- Let's make some comments. One of the sources used by Luke is the Gospel of Mark. When we compare the sequence of stories in the two gospels, we notice that the stories in Mark, in the context we have established, are presented by Luke in the same order:
- The account of the (A) stilled storm follows Jesus' teaching on the parables, then comes (B) the exorcism in the land of the Gerasenes, (C) the healing of Jairus' daughter and the woman with blood lost, (D) the sending of the Twelve on a mission, (E) Herod Antipas' questioning of Jesus' identity, (F) the feeding of the crowd, (G) Peter's profession of faith and 1st announcement of the passion, (H) the teaching on discipleship, (I) the account of the transfiguration, (J) an exorcism of Jesus, (K) a 2nd announcement of his passion, the teaching on the attitude of the true disciple who (L) identifies himself with the least and (M) does not prevent others from acting even if they are not part of the group
- It is clear, then, that Luke copies Mark, even if he often modifies what he uses. However, equally revealing is the list of stories from Mark that Luke did not see fit to include in his gospel. Here it is:
- This comparison of the contexts of Luke and Mark reveals another very important point. While Luke's Mk. 4:35-9:50 contains nine geographical changes between the east and west sides of the Lake of Galilee, Luke limits these changes to three: after Jesus' teaching in parables on the west side of the lake, he goes to the west shore (stilled storm) to the country of the Gerasenes where Jesus performs an exorcism, then returns to the west shore where he raised Jairus' daughter and heals the woman with blood lost, then sends the Twelve on a mission, and finally, upon returning from the mission he withdraws to the north shore of the lake near Bethsaida, and there the story of the feeding of the crowd will occur. From then on, Luke does not mention any return to the western shore of the lake until the end of his gospel. And so the story of the feeding of the crowd in Mark takes place on the western shore of the lake, the same story in Luke takes place on the eastern shore of the lake. Here is the map of Jesus' movements according to Luke and Mark.
|The movements of Jesus according to Luke
||The movements of Jesus according to Mark for the same period|
0. Jesus speaks in parables in Capernaum (Lk 8:4-21)
1. Jesus stills the storm by going to Gerasa (Lk 8:22-39)
2. Return to Capernaum to heal the daughter of Jairus and the hemorrhoid (Lk 8:40 - 9:6)
3. Withdrawal to a desolated place near Bethsaida (feeding of the crowd: 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000 people) (Lk 9: 10-50)
0. Jesus speaks in parables in Capernaum (Mk 4: 1-34)|
1. Jesus stills the storm on his way to Gerasa (Mk 4:35 - 5:20)
2. Return to Capernaum to heal Jairus' daughter and the hemorrhoid (Mk 5:21-43)
3. Jesus goes to his homeland, Nazareth (Mk 6:1-13)
4. Withdrawal to a desolated place on the western shore (1st feeding of the crowd: 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000 people) (Mk 6:31-44)
5. Jesus walks on the water to join the disciples on their way to Bethsaida (Mk 6:45-52)
6. Upon arriving in Bethsaida, one mysteriously finds oneself in Gennesaret (Mk 6:53 - 7:23)
7. Jesus goes to the region of Tyre (healing of the daughter of a Gentile woman) (Mk 7:24-30)
8. Return to the region of Lake Galilee through the Decapolis (2nd feeding of the crowd: 7 loaves to feed 4,000 people) (Mk 7:31 - 8:9)
9. Jesus gets into a boat and goes to the region of Dalmanoutha, an unknown city (Mk 8:10-21)
10. He goes with his disciples to Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26)
11. On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Peter professes his faith in Jesus the Messiah (Mk 8:27 - 9:29)
12. Jesus crosses Galilee and returns to Capernaum (Mk 9: 30-50)
- Finally, let us examine the organization of the sequence of Luke's narratives in the context we have outlined.
- First of all, the account of the stilled storm marks the beginning of a new sequence of narratives with the expression "And it came to pass one day", whereas Mark rather wants to keep a link with what precedes with the expression "That day, when evening came".
- The story of the stilled storm is followed by the story of three interventions by Jesus: an exorcism (in the land of the Gerasenes), a resuscitation (the daughter of Jairus), and a healing (the hemorrhoid). Then the Twelve are sent on a mission where Jesus gives them power over demons and disease, and asks them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to perform healings: in other words, Jesus asks them to continue his work.
- Then there is the story of the feeding of the crowd, where the disciples are invited to feed the crowd themselves. This scene is followed by the account of Peter's confession, which represents both a peak in the recognition of Jesus' identity and the disciples' faith, and the announcement of the beginning of the end with the mention of Jesus' death. By sandwiching the story of the feeding of the crowd between the sending on the mission and Peter's confession, Luke places us more strongly in the "aftermath of Jesus of Nazareth": we are after Easter, Jesus has risen and the disciples have taken over. Moreover, the two themes of the true disciple and Jesus' impending death dominate the sequence.
- Lk 9:50 not only marks the end of the context we have cut out, but it is here that Luke ceases to use Mark's text and its sequence until Jesus arrives near Jericho, before entering Jerusalem where he is arrested. This long sequence, which extends to Lk 18:14, contains mostly Luke's own material and some passages from the Q Document. It focuses on teaching the disciples in the context of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, the place of his death.
- What can we conclude from this analysis of the context of the story of the feeding of the crowd? Luke clearly wanted to emphasize the Twelve and their role. Jesus has stopped doing healings with Lk 8:56, and sends the Twelve on mission with the same ability to do healings (Lk 9:1). The scene of the feeding of the crowd is only there to continue this description of their role ("Give them something to eat yourself"), even though they will only be able to accomplish it with Jesus' presence. The focus on the Twelve continues after this scene with Peter's expression of faith in Jesus: the Twelve and all the disciples can only accomplish their mission by having the same faith. Thus, this scene of the feeding of the crowd can only be understood in the context of the mission of the disciple who has the capacity to do the same thing as Jesus, insofar as he is inhabited by the same faith as Peter.
- Analysis of Parallels
Recall that, according to the most accepted theory in the biblical world, Mark would have been the first to publish his gospel, Matthew and Luke would have reused much of Mark's work in their gospel, while incorporating another source, known to both of them and referred to as the "Q Document
," as well as other sources of their own, and finally John would have published an independent gospel at a later date, with no knowledge of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, even though he seems to have had access to similar sources.
In this context, the study of parallels allows us to better identify what is specific to each evangelist. Here is our convention: we have underlined the words of Mark or part of its words found as well under the other evangelists' pen; we have put in blue what is common to Matthew and Luke only, which may be an echo of the Q Document. Words of John found also in other gospels are highlighted in red. Please note that the translation from Greek is quite literal for comparison purpose, which may seem rough English.
First feeding of the crowd
|Mark 6||Matthew 14||Luke 9||John 6|
|Introduction: geographic setting
|32 And they went away in the boat into wilderness place by himself. ||13a Then, having heard, the Jesus withdrew from there in boat into wilderness place by himself.||10b And having taken along them, he withdrew by himself into a town called Bethsaida||1 After these things, he went away the Jesus over the sea of Galilee of Tiberias.|
|Action from the crowd
|33 And they saw them departing and many knew exactly and on foot from all the towns they ran together there and they came before them. ||13b And having the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. ||11a Then the crowds having known followed him. ||2 Then, was following him a great crowd, for they were observing the signs which he was doing over those being sick.|
|Action from Jesus and his disciples
|34 And having come out he saw a great crowd and was moved by compassion over them, for they were like sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.||14 And having come out he saw a great crowd and was moved over them and healed the disabled persons of them. ||11b And having welcomed them, he was speaking to them concerning the kingdom of God. And the having need of healing, he was healing.||3-5a Then, Jesus went up into the mountain and there he was sitting with the disciples of him. Then it was near the Easter, the feast of the Jews. So having lift up the eyes the Jesus and having notices that a great crowd is coming towards him, |
|35-36 And already much hour having become, having come towards him the disciples of him, they were saying that desolate is the place and already much hour. Dismiss them, in order that having come away into the surrounding countryside and villages, they might buy themselves something they might eat.||15 Then, evening having become, having come towards him the disciples saying, desolate is the place and the hour already has come by. Dismiss the crowds, in order that having come away into the villages they might buy themselves food. ||12 Then, the day began to decline. Then, having come towards the twelve, they said to him, dismiss the crowd in order that, having gone into the surrounding villages and the countryside they might lodge and they might find provisions for here in a desolate place we are.||5b-6 he says towards Philip, from where might we buy breads in order that they might eat these? Then, this he was saying testing him; for himself he knew what he was about to do. |
|Request from Jesus
|37a Then, him, having answered, he said to them, Give them yourself to eat.||16 Then, him, [Jesus] said to them, no need they have to come away, give them yourself to eat.||13a Then, he said towards them, give them yourself to eat. || |
|Objection from the disciples
|37b And they say to him, having come away, would we buy two hundred denarii of bread and will we give them to eat?||17 Then, them, they say to him, we have not here if not five breads and two fish (ichthys).||13b-14a Then, them they said, there are not to us more than five breads and two fish (ichthys). Unless having gone ourselves, we would buy food for all this people. For they were about five thousand men.||7 He answered to him [the] Phillip, breads (for) two hundred denarii do not suffice for them in order that each a little [one] he might receive.|
|Survey on provisions
|38 Then, him, he says to them, how many breads have you? Go, see. And having known, they say, Five, and two fish (ichthys). ||18 Then, him, he said, bring to me here them.|| ||8-9 He says to him one of the disciples of him, Andrew the brother of Simon Peter, there is a little boy here who has five breads of barley and two fish (opsarion). But these how are they into so many? |
|Jesus organizes the logistics
|39-40 And he called upon them to seat all companies (by) companies over the green grass. And they lied down ranks (by) ranks by a hundred and by fifty.||19a And having command the crowds to seat over the grass,||14b-15 Then, he said towards the disciples of him, make them sit down groups of about up to fifty. And they did in this way and made sit them down all.||10 He said the Jesus, Make the men to lie down. Then, there was much grass in the place. So the men lied down, the number about five thousand.|
|Jesus breaks up the bread and have it shared
|41 And having taken the five breads and the two fish, having looked up into the heaven, he blessed and broke up the bread and he was giving to the disciples [of him], in order that they would set before them, and the two fish (ichthys) he divided among all.||19b having taken the five breads and the two fish, having looked up into the heaven, he blessed and broke, he gave to the disciples the breads, then the disciples to the crowds.||16 Then, having taken the five breads and the two fish, having looked up into the heaven, he blessed them and broke up and was giving to the disciples to set before the crowd.||11 So he took the breads the Jesus and having given thanks, distributed to those reclining, likewise also out of the fish (opsarion) as mush as they were wishing. |
|Result of Jesus action
|42-44 And they ate all and were satisfied, and they took up fullness of fragments, twelve hand-baskets and from the fish. And there were those having eaten [the bread] five thousand men.||20-21 And they ate all and were satisfied, and they took up the being in surplus of fragments, twelve full hand-baskets. Then, those eating were men, about five thousand besides women and children.||17 And they ate and they were satisfied all. And was taken up the fragments having been in surplus to them, twelve hand-baskets.||12-13 Then, as they were filled, he says to the disciples of him, gather together fragments those having been a surplus, in order that anything would not be lost. So they gathered together and filled twelve hand-baskets of fragments out of the five breads of barley which were in surplus to those having taken food.|
Second feeding of the crowd
|Mark 8||Matthew 15|
|Setting: Jesus is moved by the crowd situation
|1 In these days again a large crowd being and having not something they might eat, having summoned the disciples, he says to them,||32a Then, the Jesus having summoned the disciples of him said,|
|2 I am move with compassion upon the crowd, for already three days they remain with me and don't have something they might eat. ||32b I am move with compassion upon the crowd, for already three days they remain with me and don't have something they might eat.|
|3 And if I would release them hungry into their house, they will faint on the road. And some of them from afar have come.||32c And to release them hungry, I am not willing, lest that they would faint on the road.|
|Disciples see no solution
|4 And they answered him the disciples of him that from where these will be able anyone here to satisfy of breads upon desolate place? ||33 And they say to him the disciples, from where to us in a desolate place so many breads so as to satisfy a crowd so great?|
|Survey on provisions
|5 And he was questioning them, How many breads you have? Then, them they said, Seven.||34 And he says to them the Jesus, How many breads you have? Then, them they said, Seven and a few little fishes.|
|Jesus organizes the logistics
|6a And he directs the crowd to lie down upon the ground.||35 And having directed the crowd to lie down upon the ground|
|Jesus breaks up the bread and have it shared
|6b and having taken the seven breads, having given thanks, he broke and was giving to the disciples of him, in order that they set before the crowd.||36 He took the seven breads and the fish and, having given thanks, he broke and he was giving to the disciples, then the disciples to the crowds.|
|7 And they were having a few little fishes. And having blessed them, he said also to set these before (them).|| |
|Result of Jesus action
|8 And they ate and they were satisfied and they took up surplus of fragments, seven hampers. ||37 And they ate all and they were satisfied and the being in surplus of the fragments they took up, seven hampers full.|
|9 Then, they were about four thousand. ||38 Then, the eating, they were four thousand men besides women and children.|
Let us list what the analysis of the parallels reveals to us, following the sequence of the division we have made.
Introduction or setting
- Luke is the only one to specify the place where this event will take place, i.e. Bethsaida, which is on the eastern shore of the lake. Mark and Matthew do not specify this place of retreat, but according to the context it is the western shore, not far from Capernaum. John does not specify the place, but according to the context it is the eastern shore, as does Luke. So Luke and John agree that the scene is set in the area heavily inhabited by people of Greek culture, which is called the Decapolis. Why this insistence on a Greek context? One can think that their gospel was addressed to people of Greek culture.
- In their introduction, John and Matthew speak only of Jesus who seems to be heading alone to the place where the feeding of the crowd will take place. This is their way of putting Jesus in a class by himself. Luke, on the other hand, picks up on Mark's mention of Jesus and his disciples heading together to a place of retreat, but he does so in a different way: Jesus plays the role of leader who gives direction to his disciples. Note that there is no mention of a boat in Luke, as if the journey was on foot.
Action from the crowd
- In Mark, Jesus withdraws to a desolate place because the crowd is so large that his disciples do not have time to eat (see Mk 6:31). Luke, on the other hand, simplifies the scene to the point that the crowds appear out of the blue: we do not know what they are doing here; they will be mere extras for the scene that follows. He eliminates details that seem unnecessary to the understanding of the scene, such as the fact that the crowds come from different cities on foot, and the fact that they understood where Jesus intended to go and were therefore able to get ahead of him (as if moving on foot is faster than moving in a boat).
- What is surprising is to find in Luke an expression of Matthew, while he has before his eyes the gospel of Mark. Indeed, like Matthew, he writes: "The crowds followed him (oi oichloi ēkolouthēsan autō)". One has to wonder if Luke would have had a Q Document for this account at his disposal. Also surprisingly, we find a very similar expression in John: "A great crowd followed him (ēkolouthei de autō ochlos polus". The biblical scholar M.-É. Boismard attributes these passages common to Luke and John to a source he calls Proto-Luke, a source that precedes the final writing of the gospels of Luke and John (see Synopse des quatre évangiles en français, Tome II: Paris, Cerf, 1972, p. 221). Whatever the history of the writing of Luke's account, the emphasis is on the faith of the crowd, thus on a community over which pastoral action will have to be exercised.
Jesus and his disciples behavior
- Even though Luke takes up Mark's account, he makes an important editorial effort in the first part which concerns Jesus' attitude towards the crowd: he eliminates the attitude of Jesus who has pity on a crowd which is like a flock of sheep without shepherds, in order to keep only his teaching activity, and even to specify what this teaching consists of, i.e. to speak about the Kingdom of God. Surprisingly, we find in him an attitude of Jesus in Matthew, that of healing, as if there were a Q Document on the same subject. What is the meaning of this editorial work in Luke? He eliminates all the elements that are too concrete and instead presents a general model of Jesus' pastoral action: teaching about the Kingdom of God and healing sick people. This is the model he proposed earlier when he sent the Twelve on mission.
- The second part focuses on the attitude of the disciples. In general, Luke follows Mark fairly closely: it is the end of the day, and it is the disciples who feel compassion for the crowd and take the initiative to propose a plan of action, i.e. to send the people away to the nearby farms to feed themselves. However, he still does some editorial work here. First of all, he does not speak of disciples in general as in Mark, but of the Twelve, that very small group of Jesus' intimates. For him, the mission and the particular action that will follow at the time of the bread is reserved for them. Then he eliminates the commercial activity of going out to buy food and proposes instead the search for hospitality of the people around. This is consistent with his gospel's emphasis on sharing goods, but also consistent with the fact that people do not travel at night, so it makes sense for them to seek shelter. This gives his story a little more credibility.
Request from Jesus
- Luke repeats Mark more or less verbatim while lightening the introduction.
Objection from the disciples
- Here we see something extremely interesting. Luke collages two different sources. First, he draws from that source which he shares with Matthew ("we have here only five loaves and two fish"), before taking up Mark's version, i.e. the scenario of going to buy food. It is a clever collage, because it begins by noting the state of the provisions, before logically concluding that it is insufficient and that it will be necessary to go buy food. And to support this conclusion, he ends by saying that there are five thousand people to feed. This is yet another example of Luke's art of well-structured storytelling and impeccable logic. What does this add to the understanding of the story? In fact, in one paragraph Luke groups together all the possible human scenarios for solving the problem, which will eliminate the need for Jesus in the next paragraph to inquire about the state of the provisions.
Survey on provisions
- Luke has thus completely eliminated Jesus' need to inquire about the provisions. In this he imitates Matthew. In general, his picture of Jesus is closer to the risen Christ than to the human Jesus of Nazareth, and Christ does not need to inquire about reality. This freedom from the historical Jesus should not be surprising: as the Church moves through time, her theological thinking will evolve, and it is the Jesus of faith that she will project onto the historical Jesus. Let us not forget that the gospels are above all a catechesis. The evangelist John proceeds in a slightly different way: rather than eliminating the scene where Jesus asks about the provisions, he presents us with a Jesus who knows very well about the provisions and what he is about to do, but will ask Philip a question for pedagogical purposes.
Jesus organizes the logistics
- Luke first simplifies Mark's text somewhat. He eliminates the groups of a hundred and limits the organization of the crowd to groups of fifty: his Greek community must have been unfamiliar with this reference to the Exodus and the organization of the Jews in the desert, and so it was unnecessary to insist on it. Moreover, he does not retain the reference to the grass, for it adds very little to the understanding of the story, and becomes quite useless if his audience is mainly made up of townspeople in the Greek cities. Here again, Luke structures his narrative better by pointing to two very clear moments, Jesus' request ("Make them lie down"), and the response of the disciples who carry out the request ("They did so and made them all lie down"). We can clearly see the place and the importance of the disciples in this story. Nevertheless, let us note a small inconsistency. While it was the group of Twelve who had told Jesus about the problem of the late hour and the need to send the crowd away, Luke now speaks simply of the disciples, in principle a much larger group. So we must assume here that the disciples are probably limited to the group of twelve.
Jesus breaks the bread and has it distributed
- Luke follows Mark's text closely, except for the last part where the fish are distributed after the loaves. For the latter, everything seems to be distributed at the same time. One might think that in this he continues his work of simplifying his source. However, we note the same thing in Matthew. How can this be explained? Would Luke have had in front of him this common source, called Q Document? This cannot be ruled out.
- The core of Jesus' words are those of the last supper. Let's revisit the words of the Last Supper, including Paul's reminder in his letter to the Corinthians, and compare them with our text in Luke.
As usual, words underlined are words of Mark found as well in the other gospels and Paul. In blue are words shared by Luke and Matthew. In green are words from Paul found also in Luke. Translation from Greek is literal for comparison purpose, which may seem rough English.
|Marc 14||Matthew 26||Luke 22||1 Corinthians 11||Luke 9|
|22a And them eating, having taken bread||26a Then, them eating, the Jesus having taken bread||19a and having taken bread||23b the Lord Jesus in the night in which we was given over, he took bread||16a Then, having taken the five breads and the two fish|
|22b having blessed, he broke and gave to them and he said, Take, this is the body of me.||26 and having blessed, he broke and having given to the disciples, he said, Take, eat, this is the body of me.||19b having given thanks, he broke and gave to them saying, this is the body of me the for you given. This, do into the of me remembrance.||24 and having given thanks, he broke and said, this of me is the body the for you. This do into the of me remembrance||16b having looked up into the heaven, he blessed them and broke up and was giving to the disciples to set before the crowd.|
What our text (Lk 9) shares with the account of the Last Supper in Mark (Mk 14) and Matthew (Mt 26) is the fact that Jesus takes bread, says a blessing, breaks it and gives it to the disciples. The allusion to the Eucharist in the story of the feeding of the crowd is very clear. Regardless of whether the event behind the story involved exactly these words, Mark and the other evangelists wanted to link it to the Eucharistic meal.
The observant eye will have noticed that Jesus' words at his last meal in Luke diverge from those of his own account of the feeding of the crowd in that, in the first case, Jesus gives thanks, and in the second case he blesses the bread. The word "bless" was part of Jewish prayer, and would be typical in Jesus' mouth, while "give thanks" belongs to Greek culture. Thus, in his account of the feeding of the crowd, Luke remains faithful to Mark and to the Jewish sources of the story.
On the other hand, in his account of the last supper, Luke puts the expression "to give thanks" in the mouth of Jesus, thus preferring to reflect the vocabulary of the Eucharistic celebration of his community in Greek. One will have noted the great resemblance of Luke's text of the last supper with Paul's text: Luke was Paul's companion and it is understandable that he shares with him the very words of the memorial in the Christian celebrations in the Greek communities. Thus, not only does he speak of thanksgiving, but also of bread "given for you", and of "do this in remembrance of me".
Result of the action of Jesus
- Luke takes up Mark, but simplifies and clarifies. He simplifies by not distinguishing between the loaves and the fish. He specifies that the twelve baskets of fragments concern leftovers, whereas Mark's text contains a certain ambiguity in that it speaks only of leftover fish and it is not known whether they are part of the twelve baskets. Finally, since Luke has already mentioned the number five thousand earlier, there is no need to return to it.
Let us summarize the result of our analysis of the parallels. In general, Luke takes Mark's text and gives it a more coherent and concise form. At the same time, he seems to have before his eyes what appears to be an extract from the Q Document. But more importantly, we see his catechetical emphasis: this scene represents a pastoral model for the disciples of Jesus. From now on, it is the apostles or certain representatives of the community who will be responsible for teaching and healing, and thus for sharing with others what Jesus gives them.
- Intention of the author when writing this passage
Historically, we don't really know what happened. Since the gospels of John and Mark, two independent sources, record this story, it must be recognized that behind this story there is probably a memorable event that captured people's imagination. But we cannot say more than that. And above all, according to the structure of the story, it is not a miracle: there is no call to faith and, at the end, there is no astonishment on the part of the crowd or the disciples.
But what is important for our purpose is to ask ourselves: what did the evangelist Luke have in mind when he took up this account from Mark and rewrote it in his own way? Already in Mark, our scene is set in the context of the disciples' return on mission, and it is the disciples who see the need to care for the crowd, and it is they who will distribute food to them. Luke will emphasize this point and develop it further by concisely presenting the role of the disciple and by creating a post-paschal atmosphere where Jesus is with us only by faith. When Luke paints us at the beginning of our story a Jesus who teaches the Kingdom of God and heals people in need, he is presenting the model for the disciples to follow. And the Jesus of the feeding of the crowd already bears the features of the risen Christ, for he does not need to be informed of the state of the provisions as in Mark. Our scene is followed by that of Peter's profession of faith, a profession that only really took place with all its force after Easter. More importantly, this scene marks the beginning of the announcements of Jesus' death, and thus of his departure and the taking over of the mission by the disciples. Moreover, the scenes that follow speak of the condition of the disciple.
So how do we sum up Luke's message in one sentence? Luke says something like this: as disciples, it is now up to you to take over Jesus' teaching and healing, and while you may think you don't have what it takes to support the community, you will be able to do so because the risen Jesus is in your midst; the Eucharist symbolically condenses all this.
- Current situations or events in which we could read this text
- Suggestions from the different symbols in the story
The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.
- The crowds follow Jesus
The crowds were hungry for what Jesus could give them. Can we say the same thing today about Jesus' disciples? Are we even able to grasp what people today need? Constantly Jesus repeats, "Yes, you are able to find it, and it is your responsibility to give it."
- Jesus welcomes the crowds
Here we have the typical face of the shepherd. Jesus had other plans, to withdraw with his disciples. The crowd disrupts his plans. What does he do? Reject the crowd? Grumble? No. He welcomes the crowds. Events guide his life and become the word of God. The needs of the people are the word of God. Now that's a pastor!
- Jesus teaches and heals
This is a summary of the action of Jesus, and therefore of his disciple. The activity of teaching is easier to accept and understand. That of healing leaves us a little more wondering. First of all, we must accept the errors or anomalies or illnesses of life. Then, we must accept that we are capable of helping to heal. By simply offering what we are and what we have, we are able to contribute to healing, Jesus tells us.
- The day declines, we are in a desolate place
Luke presents us with some of life's constraints: the absence of light, isolation, lack of resources. We can all refer to concrete situations here. Our first reaction is to say: "What a catastrophe! How I wish such situations did not exist!" But Jesus' reaction is to say, "Now is the time for you to act. You have what it takes."
- We only have five loaves and two fish... there were 5,000 people
The immensity of the task! Is it ridiculous to want to transform the world? What is a drop in the ocean? What would have happened if our scene had stopped at the reaction of the disciples? What would our world be like if everyone had said to themselves: we will do nothing, the task is too great. As a Christian, knowing that Jesus has risen in our midst, doing nothing is unacceptable.
- Have them spread out in groups of fifty
In creating community, the first step is to organize and structure people. Of course, for us groups of fifty are meaningless. But Jesus, as a good Jew, wanted to gather his people, and to gather you have to structure and integrate groups. Today, our way of structuring and integrating is very different, and it may vary according to culture. But the signs of a true community are the same: the ability to share and experience a common event around the same values, or a person who embodies those values.
- Jesus pronounces the blessing on the bread and shares it
There is something surprising in Jesus' gesture of blessing: why bless bread, if we follow Luke's account? The gesture of blessing is usually addressed only to divine realities? In Jewish circles, we usually say: blessed be God! But here we have: blessed be the bread! Does this mean that bread has a divine value? In a way, yes. And there are also fish, and we could extend this blessing to all matter. Basically, God created matter, and therefore matter is holy and must be blessed. In the end, it is the only place to meet God, it is received, and it is up to us to share it. The Eucharist repeats the same message.
- Jesus gives it to the disciples to offer to the crowd
We are only intermediaries. However, God can only act through these intermediaries. Jesus could not have reached the five thousand people without the disciples. This gives an idea of the importance of our role.
- They ate and were satisfied
To be satiated, to be fulfilled. But what is it that can make people so full? Only the infinite can truly fill people made for the infinite. This is the food that Jesus offers, this is the food that we must offer to our world. If this is not the food that is part of our menue, we cannot truly fill others.
- The pieces they had left over were taken away, twelve baskets
We have experience with table scraps. They usually go into the trash. Here, they are so precious that they are collected to feed others. And sharing calls for sharing. People who have experienced unforgettable sharing want to share it with others. And so what the disciples experienced with Jesus has carried over into the 21st century, and today we have access to that surplus.
- Current situations or events in which we could read this text
The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:
- Syria and Palestine, unsolvable problematic situations? "Give what you have", says Jesus.
- Substance abuse in our immediate environment. What can we do? Nothing? Is this the message of Jesus?
- Our own conflicts. We are far from this somewhat idyllic sharing in Bethsaida. Is it? Yet Jesus seems to have a different opinion.
- Being unemployed sometimes causes us to lose confidence in our worth and our role in society. Yet this is not the way Jesus looks at us when he says: "Give what you have... feed the people".
- Sick people around us, physical and mental illness. Why is it so painful? Why does it take so long? Why haven't we been given a world without sickness? Yet, if I listen to the gospel, isn't this the channel to find God?
- The newspapers talk about corruption in the political world. All this seems to be a fatality, because how can you get rich without accepting the rules of the game? Jesus comes to us with his naive and impractical vision. Is that so? What is the meaning of life?
- We say about our lives: subway, work, sleep. This daily routine wears us down and appears debilitating. Yet, by blessing the bread, Jesus blesses this life and says: this life is holy, because it is the place where God is encountered.
- Islam is scary, because of the fundamentalists and young radicals who want to establish the sharia and an islamic state. It is scary because of the violence it generates and its irrationality. What are these young people hungry for and what can a disciple of Jesus offer?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, May 2013