Gospel Contemplation: Jesus Heals and Feeds the People
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
The story of Jesus feeding a large crowd with only 5 loaves of bread and three fish is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels. The fact that all four tell this story with great similarity points to how important the event was for the early church.
This story is often called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” but this leaves out several key details – that Jesus withdrew after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, that he had compassion on the crowds who followed him and began to heal (in Matthew) and teach (in Mark and Luke) them, an finally, the presence of women and children who brought the number of the crowd to more than five thousand.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the grace to receive what Jesus offers you today.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.
There is a great body of water in the Holy Land, the Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias. You can picture this lake without ever having been there – the details of the “real” lake don’t matter. It’s a body of water, with a shoreline, where Jesus did much of his ministry. In your imagination it can look like any great lake – one you have been to or one you have seen on TV or one you’ve simply imagined.
Picture yourself there now, near the Sea of Galilee. The shoreline is dotted with small towns and also with many deserted places. See the water, the shore, the boats, the fishermen, the women and children. Feel the sunshine and the breeze off the water. Hear the birds, the people calling and children playing. Pause to notice what it feels like to be in this place.
You are there to see Jesus. Maybe you are one of the crowd that’s been gathering to hear him regularly. Maybe you’re one of the disciples. Maybe you’re the one who let slip where Jesus was headed when he left in a boat by himself.
You go with the crowd, more than 5,000 people, including the women, children, and men, as they head for the spot they believe Jesus will disembark. As you walk with them, what are you hoping for when you encounter Jesus today?
As you reach the location where Jesus has arrived, you can see that he has already begun moving among the crowd with compassion, speaking with some and healing others. When he gets to you, what does he offer you? Let the moment unfold as it will.
As the time grows late, the disciples start to worry about food. Maybe you are one of them. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives what food is there, and all are fed abundantly. In what way has Jesus fed you today?
Take some time to talk with Jesus about what you have felt and experienced. Talk with him as with a friend, sharing and listening. And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?