In the light of the foregoing (and to be continued) discussion of allegory, here is what Saint Hilary of Poitiers has to say about today’s gospel on the feeding of the five thousand.

When the disciples advised that the crowds be sent away into the neighboring villages to buy food, he answered, “They do not need to go away.” This signalled that these people whom he healed with the food of his teaching, teaching that was not for sale, had no need to go back to Judea and buy food. He ordered the apostles to give them something to eat.

But was Jesus unaware there was nothing to give? Did he not know the disciples possessed a limited amount of food? He could read their minds, so he knew. We are invited to explain things by reasoning according to types. It was not yet granted to the apostles to make and administer heavenly bread for the food of eternal life. Yet their response reflected an ordered reasoning about types: they had only five loaves and two fish. This means that up to then they depended on five loaves – that is, the five books of the law. And two fish nourished them – that is, the preaching of the prophets and of John. For in the works of the law there was life just as there is life from bread, but the preaching of John and the prophets restored hope to human life by virtue of water. Therefore the apostles offered these things first, because that was the level of their understanding at the time. From these modest beginnings the preaching of the gospel has proceeded from them, from these same apostles, until it has grown into an immense power. …

Having taken the bread and the fish, the Lord looked up to heaven, then blessed and broke them. He gave thanks to the Father that, after the time of the law and the prophets, he himself was soon to be changed into evangelical food.

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew 14. 10-11, quoted in Manlio Simonetti (ed), Matthew 14 – 28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Ib, (InterVarsity Press, 2002) 7-8.

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