Jesus' apostles returned from the mission; they were happy but dead tired and hungry. They had personal experience of being hungry, and believed the crowd could feel the tingling in their stomach after they had been listening to Jesus for hours. They puzzled over the question of how could they feed the crowd before dark. Andrew noticed a small boy who had five barley loaves and two fish, but that would be nothing for the crowd. This awareness implied that the crowd carried no food with them. Pondering over the problem, they found no possible solution, except asking Jesus to send the crowd away to get food. Jesus replied they themselves could feed the crowd. Their sympathy for the crowd became their problem. The hurdle was beyond their capacity to solve. First, they had no resources to provide bread for the crowd. Second, even if the common fund was available, a small country village would not be able to provide food to feed the multitude. Andrew boldly told Jesus, a boy had five barley loaves and two fish, and that was all he could find.
The barley loaves and fish are noteworthy in the miracle of the loaves. First, some commentators remarked, that barley loaf was regarded as food fit for animals more than for people. Daily food quality consumption reveals our standard of living. The poor quality food, 'barley', implied that it was not the powerful, but the underprivileged; not the learned, but the simple of heart, who came to listen to Jesus. They had poor quality food for their physical bodies, but had rich, best quality food for their spiritual needs, the word of God. The powerful may have rich food quality for their physical body, but poor food quality or even no food for their souls. Second, it was not the rich, the wealthy, but the poor who shared what they had. Third, the barley came not from the powerful but from a voiceless, powerless, small boy, who shared all he had. Fourth, ultimately whatever they had was God- given to them for them to be steward of what was given, and God was free to take. The loaves and fish belonged to the boy, and now were in God's hands. Fifth, what little the boy had was not merely enough to feed the crowd. It was then, and is so very often, we underestimate God's power. We now know that God alone can satisfy our human needs. The multitude ate and were filled, and the scraps left over filled twelve baskets.
Some elements of the miracle of the loaves were identified at the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, which Jesus established before His Passion. There was the bread and the breaking of the bread. There was the thanksgiving Jesus gave to the Father, then the distribution of the bread to the apostles. There was sharing of the same bread, everyone was having the same, equal in God's love. There was preservation of the bread leftovers. The multitude ate and were filled but had no idea of the miracle that had taken place. We, being human, could have never understood the mystery of the Eucharist, how the ordinary bread and wine, after the consecration, would become Jesus' real Body and Blood. The priests made no miracle, but simply allowed themselves be instruments in God's hands.
The miracle reveals God's power, His abundant love and mercy. It opens our eyes to marvel, that what little we offer in love, even small and insignificant in value, might have great effects. Jesus expects us to share what little we have. We receive freely from God and from Jesus learn to give freely.