|Giovanni Lanfranco ~ Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes|
There was another occasion about this time when a huge crowd had collected, and, as they had no food, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, "I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home unfed, they will turn faint on the way; some of them have come from a distance." The disciples answered, "How can anyone provide all these people with bread in this lonely place?" "How many loaves have you?" he asked; and they answered, "Seven." So he ordered the people to sit down on the ground; then he took the seven loaves, and, after giving thanks to God, he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples to distribute; and they served it out to the people. They had also a few small fishes, which he blessed and ordered them to distribute. They all ate to their hearts' content, and seven baskets were filled with scraps that were left. The people numbered about four thousand. Then he dismissed them; and, without delay, got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. Mark 8:1-10
Seems like we just read this account of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in Mark 6:35-44. There Jesus fed 5000 people with five little loaves of bread and two fish and twelve baskets left over. Here he feeds 4000 people with seven loaves and a few fish and seven baskets left over. Is it just the same story retold with confused details? Perhaps the first verse suggests the miracle happened twice: There was another occasion about this time.
Or maybe the miracle happened only once and Mark is repeating it with a second version because, like children, we learn best by repetition. One meaning we need to hear again and again is: No one is left out. How pleased the mother is on the left of Lanfranco's painting above, that there is food for her child. Maybe that's her elderly father or father-in-law with whom she's sharing her relief.
We notice too that in this account, Jesus is still in non-Jewish territory. And we remember the bantering conversation he had with the Gentile woman a few verses ago (Mark 7:24-30), who told Jesus that she and her "dog" people would be glad for the crumbs that fall from the Jewish table. Well here, those crumbs become a feast for her people.
There's enough for everyone! For all! That's why the number seven (symbolizing utter fullness) is emphasized, whether in the previous feeding miracle (5 loaves plus 2 fish) or in this telling: 7 loaves and 7 baskets of left overs. It's akin to the water-to-wine miracle of Cana, where 6 large water jars, plus Jesus himself, adds up to 7. What does it mean? That in Christ there is more than enough to satisfy the human person spiritually.
There's lots of complaining these days about the increase in the number of self-proclaimed atheists or the young people who say, I'm not religious, but spiritual. And Pope Francis has said these numbers are increasing because the Church has not satisfied the hunger people have for God, and so they go elsewhere.
Some years ago, when the Feast of the Lord's Transfiguration fell on a Sunday, I sat through a sermon where the young priest made no mention of the Transfiguration but harangued everyone for twenty minutes about the "Sins of Hollywood." And recently a young husband and wife told me they have decided to stop going to Mass because they can no longer bear the on-going sermons demonizing trans-gendered people. Something's not right with this picture, they say.
Then Jesus dismissed them. This huge crowd had been with Jesus for a three day retreat: the soul-feast of his teaching. Then, so solicitous for their well-being, he fed them physically to their complete satisfaction. Can you imagine the joy!