Jean’s Gospel: Feeding the Five Thousand
“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.’ ” (John 6:1-15)
Out of all of my friends and acquaintances, I have one neighbor in particular who stands out by the way she reacts to virtually every problem or opportunity. Whenever an issue comes up in conversation, whether it is personal to her, to me or concerning someone else, her first impulse is prayer. She wants to pray about it. She will pray with me or for me; she is not particular. And I trust she is sincere. Often my silent reaction is: “Yes! Pray! That is exactly what we should do. Why didn’t I think of that?” Regrettably, my first impulse to an issue is usually more like that of Philip and Andrew in this week’s passage than that of my neighbor.
“Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:7-9)
In Matthew’s Gospel, right before Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He said to them: “Do not be like them [who heap up empty phrases], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:8) In this week’s passage, we see this teaching enacted. Before anyone else raised the issue of hunger, Jesus anticipated the need: “Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ ” (John 6:5)
But when Jesus put the question to Philip, he answered with his reason (actually ignoring the “where” question): “We don’t have enough money.” (my paraphrase) Philip got right to work with his mental calculator and gave Jesus a financial report. Any diligent non-Christian could have done likewise. Andrew, on the other hand, found a boy with five loaves and two fish; but Andrew too ultimately fell back on his reason: “what are they for so many.” Without faith in Jesus’ promises, both Philip and Andrew provided only rational human answers. It was as if neither of them remembered what Jesus accomplished for the wedding guests at Cana or in His other miracles.
Unless I am sitting in church or am reminded by someone else, all too often, especially during urgency or anxiety, I forget what Jesus has done for me and fail to make prayer my first impulse when faced with a need. (Maybe I am like the adolescent boy who no longer wants to hold his father’s hand when crossing the street.)
It is not that we should despise work, other people’s help or available resources when there is a need, and sit back waiting for a miracle from above; that would be putting God to the test, as Jesus taught by his second temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:5-7). But Jesus commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33) Therefore, just like we are commanded to pray for our daily bread, we also are commanded to call on Him when we are in need. And when we do, we have his promises, including for example: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt 6:26)
“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” (John 6:10-11)
Matthew tells us that Jesus put the question to Philip to test him (John 6:10). Philip and Andrew obviously failed the test – the test of faith. However, Jesus does not berate His disciples, for their weak faith. Instead he deals gently with them, while performing a miracle (i.e., feeding the crowd) by which their faith and ours might be strengthened and encouraged.
Jesus enacted what he preached to the devil in the wilderness, when He passed His test on our behalf:
- He turned a pittance into abundance, showing that: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)
- He did not despise, but multiplied the ordinary means that God provided to feed the crowd that day, showing that “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt 4:7) and
- He gave thanks to His Father for providing the loaves and fish that day (John 6:11), showing that “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Matt 4:10)
May we also be strengthened and encouraged by Christ’s faithfulness to pray to our Father in heaven for all our needs, calling on Him in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Moreover, may we deal gently with those of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are weaker in faith (like Christ deals with us), encouraging them with patience and interceding for them with our prayers. Amen.
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Ps 50:14-15) Amen.