After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread 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 among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
The reason why today’s gospel is from John instead of Mark is that this miracle in John is the introduction to our Lord’s discourse on the Eucharist that we shall hear during the next four Sundays.
In the tradition of John, today’s gospel is full of symbols. First, the location of today’s gospel, it was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Next, the people involved, a great crowd of people followed Jesus because they had seen his works. John used the “signs”, which means proofs of Jesus’ power and glory. Lastly, the time, the Passover. We can see that John is already thinking of the Eucharist. And the theme of the Eucharist will develop in the discourse after this introduction. But, here we are reminded that it was during the Passover feast that Christ instituted the Eucharist.
As soon as the crowd sat down, Jesus asked Philip: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” The question was interesting to us. Many believe that Jesus wanted to test the faith of Philip and other apostles. In fact, if we read a little bit further we see Jesus knew what he would do. Therefore, it would be unlikely that the question was a test about the faith of Philip and the other eleven apostles, who had followed him so far and were the witnesses of his extraordinary teachings and miracles worked on individuals. Jesus simply wanted Philip and the other apostles to be prepared for the magnitude of the miracle soon to be worked out by him.
Philip’s answer to Jesus’ question would give us some ideas about the magnitude of the miracle. Two hundred denarii is about the annual salary of a worker nowadays. But even with this amount of money, we are told by Philip that it was no good for each person of the crowd to get a small piece of bread.
On the other hand, Andrew found a boy with five loaves and two fish. Although many people believe that the boy was so unselfish and shared what he had with the crowd, it was also likely that he wanted to do some business with the apostles. In any case, with these five loaves and two fish, Jesus would be ready to work his miracle.
He had the crowd about 5000 men together with some women and children first to sit down, so that they could watch his doing in clear sight. In the traditional Jewish custom before meal, Jesus gave thanks for the loaves and fish, and then distributed them to people sitting on the ground. Each one presented at the occasion got all they could eat.
With this sign, people began to know Jesus was the Messiah promised so often in their scriptures. They were determined to make him their king. However, Jesus knew that he was their Messiah and king, but his kingdom is not of this world. Therefore, Jesus left them quietly.
Although Jesus intended to prepare the minds of the crowd for his discourse on the heavenly food to be soon followed after this miracle, his principal motive in working this miracle was pit and compassion. He knew that they were tired and hungry. Also, they were far away from home. This miracle should surely convince us that Christ is interested in our daily needs too. Our principal and only real purpose in life is to be saved and Christ is ever ready to help us.
However, we have first to travel through our earthly life and we have to take a passing interest in the affairs of this world. We have to provide for our earthly needs and necessities and for those of any others who may depend on us. For many this has always been and will a struggle against great odds. Here too Christ is ever ready to help us because he has a true interest in our progress through life. Amen.