It was 4:50 in the morning, and I had approximately three minutes to eat something before leaving for my very first temple shift. I raced through a dark kitchen on my tiptoes and wolfed down a banana that had been sitting on the table. Worried that I wouldn’t have enough food in me to last throughout the day, or enough patience to eat a second banana, I looked to the slightly squished loaf of Western Family bread on the kitchen counter and felt a glimmer of hope. Bread’s filling, I thought. That should sustain me for awhile, right? Having barely enough time to snarf down a single slice, I ate one and ran.
Two hours later, in the quietest parts of the temple, my stomach made a noise similar to what it would sound like if every creature in Return of the Jedi had been thrown in the Sarlacc pit. Obviously, that single piece of bread had not filled or sustained me. It maybe had momentarily, but not long enough to make a difference or end my hunger.
As I thought about that little piece of bread and how I had expected it to fill me, I was reminded of the story of the loaves and the fishes in the New Testament and struck with new insight.
Picture it with me: the Savior has just heard of the passing of His good friend John the Baptist. Overcome, we can assume, by grief for His friend and the desire for solitude, He tries to get as far away as He can with His disciples. He, in fact, gets on a ship that takes them into the desert, almost literally the middle of nowhere. The people, hearing that the Savior has left, follow Him. These people are so desirous to be with the Savior that they don’t even think to take a boat or wagons — they follow Him “on foot out of the cities” (Matthew 14:13), leaving their homes and provisions behind to walk for who knows how long to get to Him. When they arrive, Christ, in His infinite compassion and in spite of being in the midst of His own trial, goes among them, healing their sick and afflicted.
Now, at some point, it gets to be way past dinner time. These 5,000 some odd people are in the desert, away from their homes, and have had nothing to eat for a very long time, and the disciples are, understandably, anxious about it. They approach the Savior and beg Him to “send the multitude away” (Matthew 14:15) so that they can get food for themselves. The Savior, as we know, tells them that the people don’t need to leave, and He asks His disciples to find food for them. Among all of the 5,000, they are able to find five loaves of bread and two fishes, which the Savior blesses and then breaks.
The miracle of this story that we most often focus on is that, when the disciples hand out the bread and fish, every single person receives some. Our human brains try to grasp how so few items could be split among so many and how the disciples could end up having food leftover to boot. With our small and limited understanding of this miracle, we might mentally divide the bread the fish into 5,000 pieces. They’d be pieces so small, it’d be a wonder that anybody could eat them at all. We consume ourselves with quantity and figures, but we forget another miracle that is, perhaps, more important in this story, one that sneaks quietly behind the first:
“…they did all eat, and were filled” (Matthew 14:20).
The miracle of the five loaves and the fishes isn’t only that 5,000 people all got food, but that they were all filled by it. It staved off a hunger that had likely been building for hours, and it sustained them all. Can you imagine it? With five loaves and two fishes, the Savior provided meals for 5,000. It’s incomprehensible to those of us who concern ourselves with wondering how.
The lesson here, however, is a tender and beautiful one. With this second miracle, the Savior showed the multitude and us that His love and His Atonement can fill us. He doesn’t hand it to us in portions, He doesn’t give a little to everyone. He fills us all with it. He gives us enough and then more than enough. That eternity that He promises those who follow Him is also offered completely. It’s a magnificent thing to think about.
Those of us who actively follow the Savior and want to be with Him are part of that multitude, spiritually if not physically. We might occasionally think there isn’t room for us or that we don’t matter. We might look at others receiving blessings we desperately want and think, I guess I’m not meant to have them. I guess I’m not trying hard enough. The truth, however, is that the Savior is waiting to fill our lives with every blessing. To those who follow Him, He offers eternal life individually, and He offers it in full. We must have the faith, like one in a crowd of 5,000, that when it is our turn to receive those blessings, we will receive them all.
Though a piece of bread early on a Saturday morning will not fill us, the Savior’s love and Atonement always will. There is more than enough for all. All we must do is seek Him.