Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, and went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." The disciples said to him, "Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?" Jesus asked them, "How many loaves have you?" They said, "Seven, and a few small fish." Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
There’s this account of the feeding of 4,000, and in the previous chapter there’s an account of the feeding of 5,000. Were there two separate events, or have we two separate accounts of a single event? This question has been asked times out of number.
Both Matthew and Mark report two miracles of the loaves: Matthew 14 = Mark 6; and Matthew 15 = Mark 8. They seem to want to distinguish them, mentioning that in the first case there were “five loaves and two fish,” but in the second case “seven loaves and a few fish.” The first meal came at the end of his ministry in Galilee, and the second at the end of his brief ministry to the Gentiles. The third meal, the Last Supper, was at the end of his entire ministry.
St Augustine thought there must have been two separate events, “Wherever anything is done by the Lord, and the accounts of it by any two Evangelists seem irreconcilable, we may understand them as two distinct occurrences, of which one is related by one Evangelist, and one by another.”
But a modern scholar (McKenzie), noting that the same doublet is found in the earliest gospel, Mark’s, and that in all cases the accounts have Eucharistic overtones, writes, “That this story should have given rise to variant forms so early may indicate that it was very often told; and this in turn suggests that the connection of the story with the Eucharistic rite was present from the beginning.”
It is easy to imagine this story being told over and over again to a great variety of congregations from the earliest times, as they celebrated the Eucharist. They are our ancestors in the faith. Each time they heard the story (in the version we are reading today) they heard also that the disciples came bringing “the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others.” Those early Mass-goers could identify themselves with that. We are one with them in that, because in different ways we are all blind and deaf and maimed….
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