Just as God fed the children of Israel in the wilderness, so here Jesus feeds the people. The five loaves should be understood as the five books of Moses, St Augustine suggests, whilst St Ambrose thinks they represent the five senses of the body. This bread is sanctified bread, prefiguring the Eucharist. It is like the Mystical Word of God, and can be multiplied as many times as is necessary to feed the people of God. Christ’s gifts may seem as small as a few loaves, but they are in reality very great and there is enough, and more than enough, for all who need them.
St Ambrose also comments on the order of the mystery. First comes the healing of wounds through the remission of sins. Then the nourishment of the heavenly table abounds, although this multitude is not yet refreshed with stronger food – that will come in the Eucharist after the Resurrection. Those who hunger for Christ will be satisfied, but there is always more love from Christ to feed all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
St Cyril of Alexandria points us towards the result of the miracle – all those who hungered were fed, even though they were a multitude and the food seemed scarce. What are we to infer from the twelve baskets left over? That the love of Christ overflows, and we should offer hospitality to all who seek him, and our reward, like their reward, will be life in abundance and eternally. We are to receive the stranger as we are receiving him. What we give will be multiplied many times. for he who sews a blessing receives one too. Christ is the bread of life and offers himself to all who will repent and follow him. It is he who came down to earth from heaven that all might be redeemed through his love and his willing sacrificed offered once and for all on Calvary.