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Commentary from 

Rivingtons, London, 1884



This day has been called Dominica Refectionis from a very ancient period, no doubt from the Gospel in which our Lord is set forth as feeding the five thousand by a miracle in the wilderness.  [author's note: The first Lesson at Evensong is Genesis 43, which ends with the refreshment of his brethren by Joseph, who was, in so many particulars a type of our Blessed Lord.]  It has at some times been observed as a day of greater festivity than was permitted on any other Sunday in Lent; and the Mi-Careme of the French Church still gives an illustration of this usage.  In Rome also, the "Golden Rose" is blessed on this day, and presented by the Pope to some distinguished person who is considered to have done good service to the Church in the past year: and the ceremony is accompanied by festive observances which make Mid-Lent Sunday conspicuously different from the others of the season.  The "comfort" of the Collect, the "free Jerusalem" springing out of the bondage of Sinai of the Epistle, and the Feast in the midst of the wilderness, all point the same way; as also does the ancient Officium or Introit. 

The miracle which gives point to this Sunday exhibits our Lord as refreshing men literally by the operation of His Providence, and mystically as their spiritual Refresher. 

[1] From the literal point of view the miracle was stupendous, and well calculated to show that the Providence of Him "by Whom all things were made" is able to take care of those whom He loves.  Conelius a Lapide, calculating from the Roman price of a loaf weighing from 8 to 10 ounces, concludes that the 200 pence named would have purchased 2000 such loaves.  The average price of bread in England is 1 3/4 d. a pound, at which rate the same money would purchase about 914 pounds, a quantity not very far from this estimate.  This weight of bread distributed among 5000 persons only would give not quite three ounces to each, about as much as is ordinarily eaten as an accompaniment to other food at dinner.  But St. Matthew [14:21] says that there were "women and children," besides "about five thousand men;" and if these are reckoned at only 5000 more, the quantity of bread provided for each by the 200 pence would have been only 1 1/2 ounces, literally, "a little," as state by Philip, and quite insufficient for satisfying a hungry person.  But the actual quantity of bread present was much less than two hundred pennyworth, being only such a quantity as a lad could carry, five barley loaves (perhaps ten or twelve pounds in weight altogether), and in that case enough to give a piece of bread of eight or ten grains weight to each person.  When Elisha's servitor said of "twenty loaves of barley and full ears of corn in the husk thereof," "What, should I set this before an hundred men?" it is no wonder that the servitor of Christ should say of the five barley loaves, "But what are these among so many" as ten thousand men, women and children?  Yet in the course of subdivision this small quantity of bread increased so as to be sufficient for a full meal; the persons so satisfied being evidently in a fasting, and therefore hungry condition.  For such a full meal sixteen ounces of bread is not much, but 10,000 pounds of bread amounts to four and a half tons weight, a vast quantity, apparently a thousandfold exceeding that from which it originated.  Such a calculation magnifies the miracle in appearance, yet it would have been as much an act of Divine power to have increased the bread twofold as a thousandfold; and acts of Divine power equally stupendous are daily being wrought around us by the loving-kindness of our Creator. 

[2] The mystical meaning of the miracle is shown by the course of the several acts recorded in the eleventh verse of the Gospel; and they are plainly of an Eucharistic character. 
   a) The loaves are placed in the hands of Jesus, as an oblation is offered to God of the Bread and Wine. 
   b) Jesus gave thanks [eucaristhsav, comp. Luke 22:19] before distributing them to the disciples, this eucharistization of the loaves endowing them with capacities which they did not previously posess. 
   c) He distributes to His ministers as to persons receiving gifts from Him for the benefit of others. 
   d) And by the intervention of these ministers, not by direct communication between Jesus and the multitude, the latter receive the eucharistized bread by which they are satisfied. 

Thus the mighty work of Christ in the midst of the wilderness is set before His Church in the midst of Lent as a sure token that the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; and that both fasting and abundance are at His command: and still more as an earnest of that Divine gift the "Bread from Heaven," which He distributes to His people in the wilderness of this world, by the hands of ministers, for their spiritual refreshment and strength.