Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.
Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’
There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.
When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.
Gospel for Sunday of the 17th week in Ordinary Time
Having built up to Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5000 it was somewhat jarring to find ourselves yesterday listening to John’s account. There are significant differences.
As Jesus stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.
By now it was getting very late, and his disciples came up to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place and it is getting very late. So send them away, and they can go to the farms and villages round about, to buy themselves something to eat.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’
They answered, ‘Are we to go and spend two hundred denarii on bread for them to eat?’ ‘How many loaves have you?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’And when they had found out they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
Then he ordered them to get all the people together in groups on the green grass, and they sat down on the ground in squares of hundreds and fifties. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing; then he broke the loaves and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the people. He also shared out the two fish among them all. They all ate as much as they wanted. They collected twelve basketfuls of scraps of bread and pieces of fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
In Mark’s Gospel the feeding comes at the end of the day, and at the end of a narrative that has had the disciples being entrusted with more responsibility, and rising to it. However this particular episode, and others following, shows how far they have yet to go, how much they have still to understand, and how much they rely still on the Lord.
John makes the meal itself the centre of his story. There is no teaching of the people through a long day, but the planning of the meal takes place even as the people approach.
In John the meal and its meaning becomes the story – and that meaning is something that is explored through the rest of chapter 6 which we will be fed at Mass over the coming Sundays.
- Jesus original audience in John’s gospel miss the point of the miracle in wanting to make him king.
- What though is the point of the feeding?
Detail from early Christian sarcophagus. Le musée départemental Arles antique, Arles, France. © 2015, Allen Morris.