Sing: 'Break Thou the Bread of Life' UMH 599
When the pilgrim Egeria visited this area in the 4th century one rock close to the highway (Via Maris) was said to mark the place where Jesus had fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. A primitive Syriac church had been built around 350 and a larger Byzantine church in 450. In 614 the church was destroyed in the Persian invasion. In 1932 the site was uncovered and the beautiful mosaics which can be seen today were found and preserved.
The present church was built in 1982 and is owned by the German Association for the Holy Land and is maintained by the Benedictine Order of Jerusalem. This church was built in such a way as to incorporate the ancient mosaics into the modern floor including the famous mosaic of two fish and four loaves – the artist considered Jesus to be the fifth loaf! But the most striking feature is the rock under the altar upon which Jesus placed the loaves and fish as he blessed them. The mosaic of two fish and four loaves is directly in front of the rock and altar.
Before we entered the sanctuary our group gathered in the church courtyard and I read the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish from Matthew 14 to our group. One great help to us as we toured was our “Whisperer” system – each individual was given a receiver with one earphone and Nader, our guide, operated the transmitter. This allowed Nader to speak softly and as long as we were within a hundred feet of him we could hear what he was saying.
Nader told us that because of the reference in Mark’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to having the people sit on the “green” grass that this must have happened in January or February. For the people of Israel winter is the rainy season, when they get most of the moisture they will have for the year. Nader said that the green fields we were enjoying in early January would be turning brown by early March. This is illustrative of at least part of what Jesus is teaching us here: Jesus is the bread of life and while he is with us we must enjoy the benefits of his presence.
A few months after we were here a small group of Israeli terrorists entered The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and set fire to the office area and spray painted graffiti on the walls. Apparently these people do not want any non-Jewish places of worship in Israel. This unreasonable attitude makes them as intolerant as the Muslim terrorists who threaten the very existence of Israel.
Fortunately, these radicals are a very small minority and have little influence in a country were Jews, Christians, Muslims, and non-religious people are learning to live peacefully together and all of them depend heavily on tourism.
Enjoy what you have and think less of what you do not have.