During the 1970’s it was fashionable in certain Christian circles to attempt to give natural cause explanations to selected miracles of God. Besides going against nearly 2,000 years of Church Sacred Tradition, these “enlightened” explanations actually contradict Scripture. Surprisingly, one attempt that still lingers today is the re-telling of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. This theory (in various forms) basically says that the crowds secretly hoarded food for themselves and when Jesus offered to share the five loaves and two fish with such a large gathering everyone was so moved that they miraculously shared their own food, such that collecting twelve baskets of leftovers was a non-event.
While sharing is certainly an act of Christian charity, it’s hardly a miraculous event. The story re-tellers have ignored the rest of Scripture and in the process negated the actual multiplication miracle and more importantly its foreshadowing of the Eucharist. Think about it. If the Jewish crowds typically carried their own food, would Jesus and the Apostles (also Jews) be unaware of that fact, especially since in the gospel accounts (Matt. 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6) there is talk about buying food and/or dismissing the crowds to go get their own?
After the meal, John 6:13 even says “they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves,” and in John 6:26, “you have eaten your fill of the loaves.” Not a word about the pasta salad or falafel that the re-tellers would have you believe the crowds possessed and “miraculously” shared!
Consider also some OT accounts of food multiplication. In 1 Kings 17:12-16 God provided for the widow of Zarephath with just one jar of flour and one jug of oil for a year at Elijah’s direction. In a more direct parallel, 2 Kings 4:42-44 tells of Elisha’s servant not expecting him to be able to feed 100 men with 20 barley loaves, yet he did and still had some left over.
Miracles are miracles because their cause cannot be discerned. Rather than trying to explain them away, an effort that is counterproductive to understanding our faith and directly challenges Church teaching, we need to see their purpose and marvel at the fact that indeed with God all things are possible.