In a recent introduction to our post on grumbling v. gratitude, we asked, “What do the Feeding of the 5,000, the Last Supper, and the Road to Emmaus have in common?” In each of these accounts, after receiving bread, our Lord first “gave thanks.” He then “broke it and gave it…” Gratitude was central to these generous, self-giving, miraculous acts which overflowed in abundance and faith. In this post and the next, we’ll reflect on these accounts a little more.
As we mentioned in the previous post, G.K. Chesterton defines gratitude as “happiness doubled by wonder.” A sense of wonder notices not only the desirable qualities of a thing, but it sees those things as gifts. What is the proper response to a gift? Gratitude.
We respond most naturally with thanks to a gift that is out of the ordinary or we feel is undeserved (e.g., a surprise party, a “random act of kindness,” a glorious sunset). If something is ordinary or we think we deserve it, it is easy to take it for granted. We fail to recognize that it too is a gift and something for which we should offer thanks (e.g., a regular dinner, a school or music lesson, time with a friend).
We also find it easier to be grateful for extravagant things that go beyond what we need. We often take for granted the things that merely meet our needs, and it’s even harder to be thankful for those things that seem insufficient. In the face of scarcity, fallen human nature is bent toward envy, discontent, and greed rather than gratitude and generosity. As citizens of this earthly kingdom, when we don’t have enough, we envy those who do, and we try to get and hold on to more and more. In contrast to this kingdom, our Lord’s feeding of the 5,000 shows us what life is like in God’s heavenly kingdom.
When the disciples tell Jesus that all they can find is five loaves of bread and two fish, he asks for the hopelessly meager supplies: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Our Lord received the insufficient food as a gift, and he responded in gratitude. After the blessing, he miraculously shared with the crowd so that all “ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” A generous abundance overflowed from his gratitude.
We are rightfully amazed by the physical marvels of Christ’s miracles, but we should stand more in wonder and awe at the deeper, profoundly spiritual needs that he meets. The miraculous blessing, breaking, and multiplying of the bread to feed the 5,000 prefigures the even greater miraculous superabundant gift Christ made of his own body for our salvation and which we receive in the Eucharist. In all of Christ’s miracles, we are given a glimpse of God’s kingdom and a model of how to live. When we, like Christ, receive all things (whether meager or abundant) as gifts, offering thanks to God and offering ourselves to others, we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven even here and now.