Read John 6:1-15
Although it’s lovely to read again familiar gospel stories, when you are sat at home pondering what words of wisdom can be shared on it that a congregation haven’t heard many times before, it does focus the mind a little on what is actually going on here.
There are many ways of looking at this story, some even a little controversial, but we’ll start by putting ourselves in the place of one of those many people in the crowd walking around Lake Galilee to find Jesus before he disappears off to somewhere else.
Well, It was a bit crowded on the road because some were heading toward Jerusalem for Passover, but quite a few of them had heard about Jesus. So, they were happy to chat with folk like us who’ve met Jesus locally, because we’ve first-hand knowledge of what’s been happening, the miracles and things he says. And want to know more!
Who could he be? Teacher? Prophet? Messiah even? We’re a bit of a Jesus fan club at the moment to be honest. And these others are catching the bug as well, happy to make a detour onto that grassy area over there in the hope of discovering what Jesus is all about. Should be quite a crowd if we all make it!
I overheard a few on the way talking about Jesus might be the prophet Moses promised generations ago. That would be amazing, really something!
However, someone said that we were a bit mean intruding on Jesus’ down time. Apparently, he really upset the authorities and the Jews in Jerusalem by what he’d been saying, particularly the claims about his relationship to God. Could be Jesus has taken that boat so he can be alone with God. And here’s us who want to be alone with Jesus… if several thousand people can do that!
Hopefully he’ll understand!
Hence the nine-mile ramble. That’s quite a walk when you take into account the nine miles going back home afterwards. Pretty exhausting when there might not be a McDonalds on the way. The pilgrims were better organised because they had planned their journey for some time and had food with them.
Anyway, we got there, and I was close to the action, saw Jesus looking around before asking his disciple Philip (a local lad) where they could get some food. Philip thought he was joking I think, shrugged his shoulders, mentioned the cost, a non-starter! Then another one, Andrew, appeared with a young lad and his packed lunch, very much a peasant’s meal, rough barley bread, salted fish.
But there was a miracle, and we shared a meal together, and he spoke like a prophet, although we didn’t get the whole picture and he disappeared off again before we could really celebrate him as the prophet king we’ve been waiting for!
And I’m going to leave my rambler there because I want to dwell on that shared meal for just a few minutes. Now, I don’t know if you’ve given much thought to whether there’s more in this story than meets the eye? In fact, you may have heard what I’m going to share with you before, but here it is anyway… courtesy of the thoughts of writer and Bible commentator William Barclay
The gospel writer John was writing some years after the other three, and his gospel is different to theirs in that he only includes what he wants to rather than it being a timeline from birth to death and resurrection. He’s very much interested in the spiritual, in signs as he calls the miracles, where God’s glory is revealed in the everyday of Jesus’ life. He also loves the significance of numbers, such as the seven ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus (7 is the number of completeness to the Jews). In this story Jesus takes five loaves and feeds five thousand (five is the number of the books of the law). Twelve baskets are left over (the number of the tribes of Israel). So, what might John be revealing to us as Jesus takes those loaves and fishes?
Firstly, and most importantly, this can be taken literally, as so many do. It is a miracle and a large crowd (five thousand MEN plus wives and children, so maybe up to 20,000) were spectacularly fed.
So, we have the miraculous feeding of the body.
But what if, bearing in mind our gospel writer is quite a deep spiritual thinker, this may in fact have been a sacramental meal, with Passover so close. Listen to John’s words again and do they remind you of another occasion, ‘Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.’
At the Last Supper, Jesus talks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in the same way. What if in the sacramental offering of just a morsel, as in our own Holy Communion service, there is a spiritual nourishment rather than a three-course meal?
So, we have the possibility of a miraculous feeding of the heart and soul.
And if that weren’t enough, how about another way of looking at the story. This was a mixed group of people including pilgrims, carrying provisions for their journey to Jerusalem, some who had dropped everything to race around the lake to catch Jesus as he landed, and others (the wives if not the husbands) who had given a little thought to grabbing something for the journey. But selfishness dictated that those that had did not want to share with others in case they didn’t have enough left.
But Jesus understood where they were coming from and in that action of sharing out a child’s simple picnic, everyone was moved to do the same, and discovered that their fear of not having enough was wrong, there was more than enough, for all, and they had suddenly discovered the joy of becoming sharers instead of hoarders.
And we have the possibility of a miraculous change in men and women, rather than bread and fish.
And while we’re at it lets think of Philip, who thought the situation was hopeless. Andrew whose reaction was to see what could be done, and trust Jesus to do the rest. And lastly a young boy who had little to offer, but enough material for a miracle!
However you look at this story you will find a miracle, be it physical and spiritual sustenance or a real change in hearts and souls. And a reminder, if we needed it, that we might not think we have much to offer God, but how wrong can we be if we take that little boy as our example.