The Feeding of the Five Thousand

Last Updated on July 20, 2022 by GMC

“The Feeding of the Five Thousand”
John 6:1-15 in a couplet
Sunday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

John 6:1-15

A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen.

Deuteronomy 18:15

Prophet Foretold by Moses

Is Jesus the “prophet like me” about whom Moses foretold? John drops hints all over his Gospel account of the feeding of the five thousand which took place near Passover. 

According to the tradition of Israel, Moses spoke to the Lord “face to face” in a cloud on Mount Sinai. The teachings of the Pentateuch (five books of the Torah) and the Ten Commandments (two tablets of the law) entrusted to him fed the hearts of the children of Israel. By the power of God, Moses performed signs and wonders in the court of Pharaoh, parted the Red Sea, and led the Israelites out of Egypt. In the forty years of wandering in the desert, Moses fed his hungry children with “bread from heaven” (manna). Finally, Moses mediated God’s covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel.

Twelve and Seven

In the feeding of the five thousand, twelve baskets of fragments are gathered, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:1-9), seven baskets of fragments are gathered, symbolizing the seven nations of the Gentiles competing with the twelve tribes for occupation of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 7:1). Mark records this miracle right after Jesus’ journey through the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, where he encounters the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man in the Decapolis. Several commentators defend this interpretation based on the context of the miracle.

Simultaneously, both twelve and seven represent perfect, round, complete numbers inclusive of all peoples and nations. The Gentiles are grafted by Christ into Israel (the twelve), and the children of Adam return to oneness in Christ as at the completion of creation (seven). 

In the book of Revelation, twelve and seven are mentioned multiple times in John’s vision of the consummation of the world. Twelve tribes, twelve stars, twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve foundation stones, twelve names of the twelve apostles, twelve pearls, and a tree of life bearing fruit twelve times a year resound from the book like a thunderclap. Seven churches, seven spirits, seven gold lampstands, seven stars, seven flaming torches, seven seals, seven horns, seven eyes, seven angels, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven heads, seven diadems,1 and seven plagues amplify the rolling thunder to a crescendo.

Sacrament of Unity

The early church saw the gathering of the fragments as the unity of all nations and people in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity:

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.”

Didache 9.4

Five loaves, two fish, twelve baskets, five thousand!
Has the Prophet come atop our mountain?


1 When seven is used symbolically of the dragon’s heads and diadems, it accentuates the completeness of Christ’s victory over the world. For example, the expression “out of whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8:2) means complete healing and restoration.

3 Replies to “The Feeding of the Five Thousand”

  1. Interesting numerology! Many numbers are most meaningful as long as we understand them in the context of the times. Trinity is numerical, representing Divine life in 3 distinct persons. Yet it’s a number which has been used negatively: Three’s a crowd!

    1. Numbers, like the Three One of the Trinity, are limited forms leading to the Formless Unlimited.

  2. Dear GMC, thank you for your response to my request yesterday. I did not find your post via Gmail (even after changing some settings), but I did find you online. Thank God! Your reflection today enriches my prayer life and my reverence of Scripture. Each citing of the numbers helps me come face-to-face with our Lord. Thank you for the experience.

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