July 31, 2023

Discourse on the Feeding of the Five Thousand With Five Loaves (Basil of Seleucia)

Discourse on the Feeding of the Five Thousand With Five Loaves

By Basil of Seleucia

I praise the desire for love of learning, but I approve the degree of love for the divine. And I know who instilled in you this excellent zeal. I know the instructor of your virtue, the father and at the same time shepherd and physician and governor. The one who excels in the evangelical life, and breathes apostolic grace. He who steers you to the heavenly meadows with spiritual trumpets, as the treasure of spiritual concepts that he is. The living image of philanthropy, he who has transcended the meekness of the law and is unconquered by anger, and shines with wisdom, and is crowned with virtues.

But great is the richness of your aversion to death, and the breadth of your love of learning, as I have said. And how can I satisfy you with my poor meal? How can I satiate with the small possibilities of my speech the greedy belly of your hearing? How will poor language be enough to edify so many people? Or, to use the timely words of the Apostles: "Where in the wilderness are we to get enough bread", so that again the rich Master, freeing from poverty, can bestow abundance?

"A great crowd", he says, "followed the Savior." The sheep follow the shepherd, the sick the pursuer of their diseases, the slaves the liberator of souls. They found a path without error, and all flocked to it. Anyone who wanted followed Him, the sick person was freed from their illness. A fountain of philanthropy had gushed forth, and all enjoyed.

Consumed, therefore, they continued the trek to the desert. In ancient times, when God was legislating through Moses in the desert, He had surrounded Mount Sinai with fire, and the flames flashed into the sky. Fear and gloom along with trumpets and blares overwhelmed the onlookers. But now the Master, leaving off fear, took upon Himself the form of a servant, showing his philanthropy by assuming human nature. And long ago the earth had heard: "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed," while now the table that was laid on the ground is filled with goods by the Master Himself.

So, taking the fish, the Lord turned to heaven and blessed them. Does He ask as if He needs to? Does looking up imply He is calling for heavenly help? Does He draw from elsewhere the power of beneficence, and give hold to Arius, and arm the tongue of Eunomius to hurl their blasphemies against the Son? Of course not, but it prevents the crimes of the Jews. Because the Jew always searches for causes, and from what he enjoys he gleans accusations. For once God provided manna to the Israelites in the desert, and to those who wandered the earth He had spread a heavenly table, and taught the rock to imitate the clouds by extracting water from it, and He heard, instead of thanks, ungrateful words: "Whereas a rock was struck and waters flowed, bread cannot be seen?" Therefore Christ to their grandchildren, so that they do not take the magnitude of the miracle as a pretext for slander, that He allegedly tries to show that He is greater than the Father, and again invent the usual slander of anti-deity, assigns the feat to the Father, looking up to heaven, seizing the accusation from the Jewish tongues. Because this is how Christ always treats Jewish wickedness. Thus, when He healed the leper and proclaimed with authority the flight of the suffering, He referred to the law the one freed from the disease, saying: "Offer your gift to the priest as a testimony," that is, let the law be a witness of the healing and let it stop the tongues of lawlessness. That is why even now He raises His eyes to heaven, shutting the mouth of the accuser of anti-deity. But apart from that and educating the people who sit down to eat, it is done  for them to know well the cause of the enjoyment. Because looking to heaven is a confession.

"He took the loaves in His hand, He gave them to the disciples and they gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied." Oh, what things were happening then! Loaves begat loaves, and grass tables were filled with improvised foods. Breads free from agricultural sweat, not sprung from ears, but flourished by the hands of the Master, though much is presupposed by human food: the plowing of the earth, the sowing by farmers, the change of winds into clouds, the generation of rain, the proper moisture of earth and atmosphere, the changes of temperature, the changes of the moon, the nights of twinkling stars, the sprouting of the sheaves, the early ripening of the fruit, the drudgery of the threshing, the co-operation of the mill, the removal of the superfluous, the artful molding and the necessary participation of fire. These things the Lord now did all together with only the touch of His hand, since He who stirs up the womb of the earth to fruition was present before them. He who surrounds the sky with clouds was present. He who has bestowed upon mortals the wisdom of art was present. He was present "who brought about all things by the word of His mouth."

He was present there confirming His presence with the flesh He wore. He showed with a miracle who it is that holds the reins of creation. He solved the ancient crime of the Jews and their insatiable passion. They would no longer be able to say "bread cannot be seen? Behold, they were also filled with bread in the desert. Let the kinship of miracles teach, O Jew, who had granted them also.

"And they ate," he says, "and were filled, and took up the surplus of the portions twelve baskets full." The baskets were equal in number to the Apostles, so that each one of them, carrying one, would have the labor of being a witness to the miracle. The shoulder with the sense of friction to teach an awareness of the fact, and the effort to secure the memory, so that they do not consider what they saw as fantasy, and sink into thoughts due to the magnitude of the miracle. And because the mind is not sufficient to see the paradoxical miracle with its own eyes, that it not gradually give rise to the suspicion that the event was a dream. It prolongs the memory of the event with the multitude of leftovers, so that in daily eating, knowledge is taught, stimulating the memory.

Please accept, also, the other evangelist, an advocate of what has been related, to say: "For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened." He manifests the passion, in order to proclaim the miracle. For it is great that only five loaves should reach so many thousands. But the fact that there were so many leftovers, not only gave birth to the memory of the miracle in the disciples, but also showed the power of the One who performed it. Because, if He gave them as much as they needed, the grace of his philotimo would be distorted, and by doing this, it would not have become clear that He is the Lord of everything, since He only served the need. Whereas now that the gift has become wider than the need, it testifies to the authority of Him who granted it.

Let us also learn clearly from elsewhere what I am saying: Manna was once given to the Israelites through Moses. But since the one who ministered the miracle was a slave, with him the gift was also enslaved to the need, since the superfluous was hidden. And any hand that became sick with greed, at the time of collection, was obliged to make the gift sick with it. Heaven sent down to the Jews food in measure, and time overcame the gift, and grace had a term. Because as the journey in the desert ended, the earth also indicated the natural bread. Then the manna ceased, and the treasury of heaven for men was closed.

Transfer your mind to another servant, who was ordered to work a miracle with a deadline. The great Elijah, who sterilized the sky with an oath, restrained the air with his lips, and with his voice condemned the creation to rest. He persuaded the hospitable widow that the oil was turned into a fountain, and the little flour did not diminish with time, but as nature consumed, grace replaced. When the rain came, the gift of Elijah was given wings. He served, ministered slavishly and not out of some sovereign philotimo. That is why now the Lord multiplies disproportionately to the need, manifesting His authority, and letting everyone understand who is "the one who feeds all flesh."

To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Source: Migne P.G. 85:360. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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