For the next several Sundays we will be listening to the Gospel according to John. We get a glimpse of the difference between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics. We will hear a part of the 6th chapter which is a long discourse on the Eucharist. We hear the beginning of that chapter today, John’s account of the multiplication of loaves.
Much attention has been paid to the structuring in John’s Gospel. A broad view of today’s passage would have us notice that in chapter 4 the Samaritan woman believes in Jesus. But here in chapter 6, in contrast, the Galileans are unbelieving (the difference between Messiah and King). Also in chapter 4 the Samaritans believe in Jesus in contrast with chapter 5 where the Jerusalem Jews are unbelieving. The responses of the Samaritans and the Galileans are somewhat similar. The reaction of Jesus is totally different. He remained with the Samaritans for two days, but the last line of this passage states “he withdrew again to the mountain alone.”
John adds several details to his account which establish an exodus setting, crossing the sea, Jesus went up on the mountain, there he sat down, feeding, Passover was near, etc. John accents the divinity of Jesus. In John vs 5, Jesus sees the crowd coming to him, in Matthew and Mark the Apostles say, “it is late and this is a deserted place, send them away.” Jesus vs.6, he has supernatural knowledge, “…he himself knew what he was going to do.” Jesus takes the initiative to feed the people. Vs.11 “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted” In John he does not elicit the help of the apostles. Vs 12 Jesus commands that the disciples gather the fragments. John had been careful to mention that the loaves were barley loaves. Echoes of the story of Elisha would have been present to the people. Elisha provided food for his hungry men in the Second book of Kings. We heard the story in the first reading today. Elisha had fed 100 men with 20 barley loaves and some was left over. Jesus feeds more than 5000 with five loaves and two fish and 12 basketfuls are left. Jesus escapes to the hills by himself when they seek to make him king.
John moves the placement of the number who are fed to earlier in the passage. Thus the climax of the story is not the miracle but the negative response of the Jews.
It would be a mistake however not to notice the very human side of Jesus. “John notes that Jesus was the first to think of the hunger of that crowd which had gathered to listen to him. These people need to eat; something must be done for them. This was the kind of person he was, always concerned for the basic needs of people.” Recall also that when Jesus raised Jairus daughter he said, “That she should be given something to eat.”
What is the picture of the Apostles we have?
First of all we notice that at the beginning of the reading Jesus is gathered with the disciples on the mountain. At the end Jesus will be alone on the mountain. Jesus was continually trying to teach them that they must see things with the eyes of faith, from above, not only from below. John tells us : “A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.” Jesus clearly was bothered when people were only attracted to the extraordinary and miraculous. He wanted them to see beyond these things to who he was as God. In our day too, some people are so attracted to the extraordinary and miraculous to the detriment of following the teachings of Jesus.
He tests Philip. Will Philip see with the eyes of faith or see from below? Philip had been busy calculating the cost and replies that “two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” He is thinking in terms of cost and earthly resources. How different if he had responded: “I’m sure, with God’s help, we can provide these people with something.”
Andrew does not do so well either. He does manage to find a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he adds: “…but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus could have berated them for lack of faith. He doesn’t. Instead he proceeds to multiply the loaves and fish. Over 5000 people are fed and there is such abundance that 12 baskets of leftovers are collected.
They should get the message. God can do much with little. This was the story repeated over and over again in the Bible. Ruth who was getting the grain left over from the harvest becomes the ancestor of Jesus. Matthew who was a tax gatherer and rejected by people became an Apostle. The fishermen become fishers of men. But here again the disciples do not get the message. Apparently they share the crowd’s interest in making Jesus a king–one more example of thinking in earthly terms, from below.
It was a long process for the apostles to move from looking for a kingdom of God on earth to preaching the Kingdom of God of Jesus. We must make the same long journey.
This Gospel passage is another example of the apostles living out of objections, hesitancy and doubt.
Jesus will go on to teach and preach in the continuation of this story about his word and self coming to us in bread and wine. We must eat his flesh and drink his blood. For us as Catholics this is a reminder of the importance of the Eucharistic food in our lives. Here is nourishment for our faith. It is to help us to see things from above not from below and then go into action.
These words are also a reminder that Jesus feeding of the crowds, Jesus giving of himself to us in the Eucharist, are reminders and foreshadowing of the great Heavenly Banquet which is heaven.
This passage from John looks BACK:
To the Exodus, Moses goes up a mountain, “Jesus went up on the mountain and there he sat down.” Jesus takes the teaching position of the Rabbis.
The Passover is mentioned.
The loaves are “barley” the food of the poor and the food mentioned in the miracle story of Elisha from Second Kings.
In the desert God fed the people with manna.
In the PRESENT John is presenting Jesus as divine.
In contrast to Mark, Jesus himself sees the crowd coming to him.
Jesus takes the initiative to feed the people, not the apostles..
Jesus “knew what he was going to do” even though he directs questions to Philip.
In John the disciples take no part in the distribution.
Jesus commands the disciples to gather the fragments.
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