BREAD AND FISHES
On two occasions there was a multiplication of bread, alike in all details except the proportions of the quantities involved, —that is, in exactly what give them their real spiritual meaning.
Thousands of poor people had followed Jesus into a place in the wilderness, far from any settlements. For three days they had not eaten, so hungry were they for the bread of life which is His word. But on the third day, Jesus took pity on them—there were women and children among them—and ordered His disciples to feed the multitude. But they had only a little bread and a few fishes, and there were thousands of mouths. Then Jesus had them all sit down on the ground on the green grass, in circles of fifty to a hundred, He blessed the small amount of food they had; all were satisfied, and baskets of the broken pieces were left.
The less there is of the true bread, the bread of truth, the more it satisfies. The old law is abundant, copious, divided into innumerable sections. There are hundreds of precepts written in the books and thousands more invented by the Scribes and Pharisees. At first sight it seems a gigantic table where a whole race could be satisfied. But all these precepts, these rules and formulas are only dry leaves, shavings, trash. No one can live on such a menu. The more numerous they are, the less they satisfy. Humble and simple people cannot satisfy their hunger for justice with these innumerable but inedible supplies of food. Instead, one Word alone sums up all the words and transcends the petrified bigotry beloved by the complacent and satisfied; one Word which fills the soul, which reconciles hearts, which calms the hunger for justice; the multitudes will be satisfied and there will be enough to eat also for those who were not present on that day. Spiritual bread is in itself miraculous. A loaf of wheat bread is only enough for a very few, and when they have finished it, there is no more for anyone! But the bread of truth, that mystic bread of joy is never finished, can never be finished. Give it out to thousands and it is always there; distribute it to millions, and it is always intact. Everyone has taken his part as the men and women in the wilderness did, and as much as was given out, so much the more remains for those who are to come.
Another day when the disciples found themselves without bread, Jesus admonished them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matt. 16:6, 11) And the disciples, almost always slow to understand Him, said among themselves, "It is because we have taken no bread." (Matt. 16:7) Which when Jesus perceived he said unto them, "O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?" (Matt. 16:8-11) That is, of the blind guardians of the degenerate law.
They are the Twelve, the chosen, the blest, the faithful, and yet they cannot understand at once, do not sufficiently believe. Again in the boat, the night of the tempest, Jesus was obliged to reprove them. The Master had gone to sleep in the stern, His head on the pillow of one of the rowers. Suddenly the wind rose, a storm came down on the lake, the waves beat against the boat and it seemed from one moment to the next that they would be wrecked. The disciples, alarmed, awakened Jesus, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark 4:38)
And be arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, "Peace, be still." (Mark 4:39) And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, "Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" (Vs. 40) And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Vs. 41)
There is one, Simon Peter, who has no fear. Not only does his nature transcend the human, but great is his faith, great his love, great his power of will. Nothing animate nor inanimate can resist these three great qualities. A man who possesses them has renounced all that is temporal and is victorious over time.* He has renounced the good things of the flesh, and for this reason can save the flesh; he has renounced material things and so is master of matter.* Everyone can partake of this power. Faith is sufficient, but it must not be faith only in oneself.
A few years before Christ, a great Italian, captain in many wars, corrupt but a fitting ruler over the disintegration of the Republic, was on the sea, on a real sea, in a boat with a few rowers, in search of an army which had not come up in time to win the victory for him. The wind began to blow, the storm bore down on the boat and the pilot wished to turn back to the harbor. But Caesar, taking the hand of the pilot, said to him, "Go forward, fear not, Caesar is with thee and his fortune sails with you." These words of haughty self-confidence heartened the crew; every one, as if a little of Caesar's strength had entered into his soul, did his best to overcome the opposition of the sea. But in spite of the efforts of the seamen the ship was nearly sunk and was obliged to turn back. Caesar's faith was only pride and ambition, faith in himself: Christ's faith was all love, love for the Father, and love for men.
With this love He could walk to meet the boat of the disciples tacking against a contrary wind, and could step upon the water as on the grass of a meadow. They thought in the darkness that it was a threat, and once again He was obliged to reassure them, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid." (Mark 6:50) As soon as He was in the boat, the wind fell and in a few minutes they reached the shore. Once again they were astounded because, says the honest Mark, "For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened."* (Mark 6:52)
This comparison may seem ingenuous, but it is revealing, for the miracle of the loaves is the foundation of all the others. Every parable spoken in poetic words or expressed with visible prodigies was as bread prepared in different manners, so that His own followers, at least His very own, should understand the one needful truth that the Spirit is the only charge worthy of man, and that the man who is nourished on that charge is master of the world.