The miracle of the loaves and fishes, often referred to as the ‘Feeding of the 5,000’ is found in all four of the gospels. (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-15) In the story, Christ borrowed some loaves and fishes from a little boy, blessed and broke them, and then miraculously used them to feed the entire assembled crowd.
In fact, Christ performed this miracle twice; once in Bethsaida (which was Jewish territory) and once on the border of Decapolis, which was an area where Gentiles (non-Jews) lived. In Bethsaida, he fed 5,000 men (plus women and children), whereas in Decapolis, he fed 4,000 men (not counting women and children). (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9)
Christ later explained to his disciples that both miracles actually had a deeper meaning (Matthew 16:9-10). With the Jews in Bethsaida, there were five loaves divided and twelve baskets of leftovers. The five loaves symbolized the five books of the Torah and the twelve tribes of Israel.
With Gentiles present in Decapolis, however, Christ divided seven loaves and there were seven baskets of scraps left over. These symbolized the “seven nations” who originally lived in the land of Canaan (cf Acts 7:8). The purpose of the miracles was to announce that the blessings of the gospel are for everybody – Jew and Gentile alike.
The miracle of the loaves also points towards the Eucharist, the sacrament involving bread and wine. Reflecting on the account in St John’s gospel, Pope Benedict XVI once explained: “Jesus’ actions are on a par with those of the Last Supper. He “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated”, the Gospel says (John 6:11). The insistence on the topic of “bread”, which is shared out, and on thanksgiving (v. 11, in Greek eucharistesas), recall the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice for the world’s salvation.”
This colourful window depicting the miracle is by the artist W. Tipping of the Clayton & Bell studio. It illustrates various aspects of the miracle – the apostles organising the crowd into groups, the boy offering the loaves and fishes – and the people seated on the ground as Christ had asked. It dates to 1877 and is found in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Dolours in Kensington, London. It sits alongside two other windows that relate to the Eucharist – the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.
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Where to find this work of art
Our Lady of Dolours, Kensington
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