Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Thought: The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
Did you ever examine a nut and see how beautifully the shell outside fits the kernel inside? The two are quite distinct, are they not? Yet the one fits the other closely. The Lord makes the shell to grow from the kernel and to protect the kernel and also to further the growth of the kernel. For, although the shell cannot be created without the kernel, yet the kernel would not develop aright without the shell.
Everything in Nature has a shell, or a sheath, or a covering, that fits it snugly and promotes its growth and protects it. The tree has bark; the bird has feathers; the animal has fur. The muscle has a membrane; the ear of Indian-corn has a husk; the fruit has skin; the seed has a covering, etc., etc. Everywhere, if you look for it, you will find a kernel or an inside, and a shell or an outside.
And more, everything in Nature, both the outside and the inside, is itself a shell. For everything in Nature is natural, or outside; and its kernel, or inside, is something spiritual, which is in the spiritual world; for the natural world outside snugly fits the spiritual world inside and protects it. And every particular natural thing is said to "correspond" to the particular spiritual thing that is inside of it.
We are having a very beautiful lesson of this law of correspondence in this chapter.
A great many people had followed the Lord into the desert, for they felt that they needed Him; they wished to be cured of their wickedness and their sicknesses. They wished to have Him teach them and heal them. And because He loves all men, He did to them as they wished.
Although the Evangelist Matthew does not mention in this story that the Lord taught them, stating only that "He saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick" - yet the Evangelist Mark tells that "He began to teach them many things," and Luke writes that "He spake unto them of the kingdom of God."
By teaching them and talking to them of the kingdom of God, the Lord was doing something for their inner being; He was feeding their souls. He was giving them things true and good, which cannot be seen with the eyes of the body and felt with the hands of the body, and which are therefore not material or of the outside, but spiritual and heavenly and of the inside. They nourish the soul and build it up. You know that the Lord taught about two kinds of bread, when He said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
There is inside bread for the inside man or the soul, and outside bread for the outside man or the body. The words that the Lord speaks, or the truths which He teaches, are of the soul, and the material bread is for the body. And as the body corresponds to the soul, so the material or outside food corresponds to the inside food or the good and truth from the Lord. And here is a secret or an "arcanum," which the Lord has given to us of the New Church. Just as the soul is in the body, so the spiritual food is in the natural food. It is the kernel of which the natural food is the shell.
Goodness which the Lord gives is inside the bread, and knowledge of truth which He gives is inside the fishes. There could be no bread in the world if there were not goodness from the Lord, for through this the Lord creates the bread. There could be no fishes in the sea if there were not truth from God, for He creates the fishes through this. There are many kinds of bread, and there are many kinds of goodness. There are many kinds of fish, and there are many kinds of knowledges of truth.
It was because the Lord had been feeding the hungry souls of men in the desert with His good and true teachings, that He then fed their bodies with the food which corresponded to these teachings. The goods and truths of His teachings were in the spiritual world and were introduced into the loaves and fishes that were in the Lord's natural hands in the natural world, and there they were multiplied by influx from heaven.
I am sure that you will be interested in reading the explanation of this miracle given by the Lord through Emanuel Swedenborg, in E. 617:
"This miracle was performed because the Lord had before taught His disciples, and because they received His doctrine and made it their own; this was what they ate spiritually, therefore natural eating followed; that is to say, it flowed in with them from heaven as the manna did among the children of Israel, without their knowing it. For when the Lord wills it, then spiritual food, which is also real food, but only for spirits and angels, is turned into natural food, as into the daily manna." ,
It is important for you to notice what the Lord did before He broke the bread. All four gospels tell us that He first "looked up to heaven and blessed," or that He "gave thanks" before He broke the bread.
To look up to heaven means to love and think of what is heavenly more than of all else.
To bless means to give of His heavenly riches to men; indeed, to give them of His Divine, whereby He comes into very close touch, indeed, into "conjunction" with His disciples. In our story He came into conjunction with His disciples and the people by giving them the goods and truths represented by the loaves and fishes.
His breaking the bread means almost the same thing. It was customary in the Ancient Church, when a man had guests, that he would break the bread and so share it with them, because in this way he showed that he shared what was his own with them, and that he loved them.
For the same reason our dear Lord, Jesus Christ, blessed and broke the food which He gave to the multitudes. He thereby showed that He loved them and gave to them from what was His very own. And because they also were to love one another, therefore He gave the food first to the disciples and directed them to give it to the people.
Two or three years later, when He was about to leave the world, and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Supper, He likewise took bread and blessed and broke it and gave to them.
The loaves were five in number and the fishes two, because these numbers indicate what is little and barely enough. Something, even though a very little, was needed to make a start of the miracle. So something good and true - even if it is only a little - is needed in our minds before the Lord can multiply it and make it much.
The twelve baskets that were taken up after the meal signify what is full; namely, that the people had been fully instructed and fully blessed.