This stained glass depiction of Jesus feeding 5,000 people reflects the Gospel reading for Aug. 2, 2020, the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Photo from
This stained glass depiction of Jesus feeding 5,000 people reflects the Gospel reading for Aug. 2, 2020, the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Photo from
Gospel Reflection for Aug. 2, 2020, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The assassination of John the Baptist clearly has an impact on Jesus and his work and ministry. Their lives were deeply linked together and their missions intertwined. Upon hearing of the news of John’s death, and as he begins to more and more anticipate and speak about his own Passion and Death, Jesus withdraws with his disciples for a time of prayer and retreat.

We must also consider that the crowds by now, having heard of John’s death, are also experiencing some fear and concern. Many of them had relied on John to revitalize their religious practice and to call them to conversion. Any questions as to whether or not the crowds thought him to be the messiah, John made an important impact on a segment of the Jewish community, including Jesus and his disciples.

John had been in prison for some time before he was killed, and by this time in his ministry, Jesus was attracting larger crowds. On this day, and likely in response to the news of John’s death, more than 5,000 men, women and children seek out Jesus in that deserted place so that they could listen to him to find healing of their sins and afflictions, and perhaps, find some consolation in their grief over the death of John.

The 12, and to a much lesser extent even Jesus himself, have grown weary of the pressure and the demands of the crowds. They went to this abandoned place to be alone and regroup. After interrupting his time of prayer Jesus spoke with the crowds at length. Matthew does not record for us what Jesus taught that day. The disciples now wearied of the day, are ready to send the people away so that they can get some food. While the disciples could not imagine feeding the crowd themselves, they also seem ready to dismiss the crowd so that they can continue their prayer and rest. On the one hand, it is a genuine concern for the well-being of the crowd, while on the other, we can see that they just want to be alone with Jesus.

Jesus, of course, will have none of this. He is not ready to dismiss the crowds and offers the seeming crazy idea to the disciples that they should feed the assembled crowd themselves. “Jesus said to them, ‘There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.’ But they said to him, ‘Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.’”

The disciples have dismissed any further idea of feeding the crowd while Jesus takes the meager food given to him and, having blessed the food, distributes it to the crowd to eat. There are 12 wicker baskets of food left over once the crowd has had their fill.

The Lord, in the midst of the weariness of his life and ministry, and with his need to be apart and left alone to pray and reflect, still teaches and ministers to the crowd. With very little – very little food and perhaps even little energy and strength – Jesus tends to the needs of the crowd over the needs of himself and his disciples.

This is an important lesson in discipleship. Jesus shows us that, through the power and support of prayer, even when we feel like we have nothing more to give, that we are tired or burned out, that the grace of the Lord continues to work through us. With little – indeed with very little – emboldened by the power of grace, we can accomplish great things.

The miraculous feeding of the crowds, which occurs more than once in his ministry, is the most profound of all of the miracles. Steeped in Old Testament imagery and foreshadowing not only the Eucharist, but he also anticipating the entire work of the Church, grounded in the Paschal sacrifice of Jesus. This is an episode that cannot be reduced to anything less than a miracle of God’s abundance. The notion that Jesus evoked sharing among the assembled crowd is not faithful to the testimony of the Gospel writers, nor does it coincide with the theological and scriptural allusions that the evangelists employ.

We will see Jesus again as he endures his Passion and Death giving all of himself for the sake of carrying us to salvation. In our lives and in our ministry we are given the strength to give of ourselves even when we feel like we have nothing left to give.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.