In the bible, numbers very often have a symbolic or mystical meaning. John’s Book of Revelation, for example, makes extensive use of numerology. His numbers are not to be taken literally; they have a deeper meaning. Today, let’s reflect on Luke’s use of numbers in his account of the feeding of the 5,000.
The event takes place after a long day of healing and teaching about the kingdom of God. Evening is coming, and the 12 suggest that the crowd be dismissed so that everyone can go to the towns around this “deserted place” to buy food for themselves. This “deserted place” is reminiscent of the desert of Tsin where God rained down manna upon the people of Israel during their exodus journey. That was the old order, the old time. Jesus challenges them to stay put and to give the people something to eat themselves. The 12 answer that they only have 5 loaves and 2 fish. They are about to experience the new order, the new time, the kingdom of God.
This gathering is marked by the number 12, the symbol of entirety and cosmic order. In the old order people, a group of tribes, were struggling in a “deserted place” and needed God to care for them. The people of the kingdom, however, are a community and have all they need. They have 5 loaves and 2 fish.
5 is symbolic of transformation and illumination. 2 symbolizes harmony. In this meal the people will be fed with an intimate knowledge of God which brings the harmony that only divine healing can bestow. This illumination and harmony spreads to groups of 50 and then to the entire group of 5,000.
But the kingdom of God is not exclusive. Its gates are open to everyone. The entire world is invited to eat in the kingdom of God. 12 baskets are left over after this first meal in the kingdom of God. Food of the kingdom of God awaits, and everyone is invited to this meal.
On this day, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we hear the words of invitation, powerful and clear that invite everyone to this meal in the kingdom of God, “Take and eat. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in memory of me”
Lord Jesus, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to the Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
(Prayer from the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ from the Sacramentary)