Sacred Seeing: Feeding the Multitude

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

Feeding the Multitude

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is happening here? What do you notice?
Take some time to consider each of the following: the crowd; the disciples; the children; Jesus.

Read the Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
This is the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry that is recorded in all four Gospels. Why would it be so significant?

The Gospel account is specific about the time of day being evening. What does that mean to you?

What do you see when you look at the people depicted in each of the groups listed above? If each group were speaking, what might they be saying? Why are they saying these things? What is happening with them?

Look at Jesus. Look at his hands, his face, his eyes, even his dress. What is he doing? What do you notice? Why is he depicted this way?

Jesus could have fed the crowd in any number of ways. Why do you think he chose for the disciples to distribute the bread?

Prayer
I give to God the fragments of my life. He takes them, holds them up before heaven, gives thanks for them and then, to my chagrin, he breaks them into even smaller pieces. Then, he gives them away, to others—to friends and family, to brothesr and sisters, and to strangers I don’t even know. From the largest pieces to the tiniest crumbs, he wants to give it all away. Then, he hands me back what is left over…and I find in my arms a basket full, to overflowing, more than enough to satisfy. Not a single crumb has been lost.

As one of the crowd
Lord, I didn’t even know I was hungry until you told me to stop and site down at your feet. You have always provided for me, sometimes in very surprising ways. Remember when you…? But now I am wondering again how you can bring anything satisfying out of this wilderness. So, while I wait in need, you stretch out your arms toward heaven, and then you stretch them toward me. I want whatever you are offering, Lord. I need whatever you want to give me. My hands are now open, Lord…and so is my heart.

As one of the disciples
Lord, you have asked me to do many things, but this time what you are asking seems too much. Look at my empty hands—I have nothing to give. These aren’t just words. This is the truth. You want me to feed without food?…and you say it as if you are certain that I can be of help to you. You have the power to do whatever you want; you could do this without me. Nevertheless Lord here is what I can give to you right now. Help me trust you to do the rest.

As one of the children
What are you going to do this time, Lord? I can’t wait to see how you are going to solve this one. You have told me that there is nothing to worry about, so that must mean that you have the perfect answer to everything. What little bit I have in my hands—in my heart and soul—it is all yours. Here, I am giving it to you. Now, Lord, what will you do with it?

A Word from the Tradition

The wonder of the miracle of Jesus feeding the five-thousand surpasses human understanding. What is most amazing, however, is what this miracle teaches us about the compassion and grace of God in Christ. Just as the loaves and fish never seem to end, so our Lord’s mercy more than covers our need, more than comforts us in distress. God’s forgiveness more than exceeds whatever sin we may have done. God’s compassion is greater than our greatest tribulation. Our heart’s desire, the needs of our body and soul, our Jesus meets—and then some.
—Hilary of Poitiers (c.300–c.368)

Image: ©2006 Feeding the Multitude by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Abundant life

By Melodius Monk

Ever ask yourself the question, is this all life has to offer? Coming off the “holiday” season (you know the one that was supposed to make you feel peace and joy?) or the start of the New Year (when I realize that all of the grand resolutions I vowed to fix in my world may either be impossible, or not part of God’s timing)—perhaps this is a time when this question surfaces! It’s like when you work really hard planning a dinner party: the dinner happens—ends—and I’m left feeling disappointed. The party was fun, really fun in fact and enjoyed by all, but two days later I’m sad it’s over and start to wonder how long it will be until the next enjoyable moment in life. Instead of savoring the fun evening, I start to think if only I had prepared a little better for the party, maybe the feeling of satisfaction would have lasted a whole week instead of two days. Maybe next time I can buy better wine, or not invite so and so, or have the bruschetta just a little crisper, or add one more desert (even though we already had four, but I didn’t know my friend was off sugar)!

My guess is I’m not alone in this waste of time search for the ever elusive “more” in life.  In her story-filled book, Sister Bridget Haase answers my questioning with a swift and simple belief.  She writes, “You do not need to seek abundant life anywhere else. It is right here, right now, under our feet, and in the air we breathe. This is all there is to life and it is quite enough.”

This often inexhaustible search for more in life can manifest itself in small and large ways. God has planted within each of us exactly what we need for a full and abundant life. In her book Generous Faith, Sr. Bridget teaches us that this type of faith “compels us to mine, with integrity, fortitude, and abundance, the faith within each of us.” She continues; “We, too, are created to savor and enjoy every moment of life. Unfortunately we do just the opposite. When we shower, we plan the day’s schedule rather than simply feel the rush of water on our shoulders. When we smell a gardenia, we draw up future plans for a garden rather than just let the fragrance bless us. When we sit by a stream in a local park, we wish we were at a popular mountain resort, far away from our daily routine and duty, rather than hear the gurgling gift of flowing water. When we see flowering lilac bushes in the spring, do we begin a summer countdown or linger over the beauty of lilacs? When watermelon juice runs down our chin, do we wonder if mangoes would have tasted better?”

Though I believe Sr. Bridget’s words to be true, I need regular reminders that God makes no mistakes, and that in Jesus I will be given precisely what I need each day for a full and abundantly rich life.

"Roses" by Leonid Afremov

“Roses” by Leonid Afremov