Both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark record the miraculous feeding by Jesus of the 5000, and then later, the 4000. These separate miraculous feedings have profound significance regarding the international dimensions of Jesus’ Kingdom.
The feeding of the 5000 is to Israelites living within the Promised Land. Thus, there are 12 baskets of leftover food symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel. The Gospel is taken first to the chosen people. See Matt. 14: 13-21 and Mark 6:32-34.
The feeding of the 4000 is to Gentiles living outside the promised land (in the Decapolis; see Mark 7:31). Thus, there are 7 baskets of leftover food representing the seven Gentile nations that once occupied the land of Canaan.
The significance of these two miraculous feedings is clear: the Kingdom established by Jesus is catholic – that is to say, universal, international, for all peoples, for all nations.
In-between the two miraculous feedings of the 5000, and then the 4000, Jesus healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. She is the Gentile woman who told Jesus, “Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28). Thus we see that “Israel’s leftover bread will be given to the Gentiles” (Ignatius Catholic Bible Study, page 79).
Jesus himself summarized the subtle meaning of the two miraculous feedings, saying to the Apostles:
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied.”And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:19-21).
To conclude, “All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one. . . . The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 831; LG 13).
Yes, indeed, we are called to evangelize – to share the Bread of Life with all people. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’ ” (John 6:35).
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Reference: I am relying completely on Scott Hahn’s audio Bible study of The Gospel of Mark available from Saint Joseph Communications (refer to the second CD). I have merely tried to summarize in a concise manner these points made by Dr. Hahn. See also The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on The Gospel of Mark. Note: as is well known, these miraculous feedings included the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
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