By Ajit John
A Reading from the Gospel of John 6:1-16
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 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. 11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea.
The Gospel of John deliberately connects the feeding of the 5,000 and the Eucharist. Before the narrative of this great miracle is given a simple phrase is tossed in: “Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews was near.” Then the story begins with the crowd surging to Jesus to hear what he has to say. We see the miraculous feeding with the 12 baskets-full left over. Jesus pointedly asks the disciples to gather up the remnants of the meal. The food supplied was inexhaustible, it seems. It was meant to be food of a different order. Did the crowd understand this after they got up from the meal?
The connection of this miracle with the eucharistic feast of the Church is taken up on the next page of the gospel account. When the crowds search for him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives a long discourse about bread from heaven. He asks them if they sought him out because they ate their fill of the loaves and fishes. Were they looking for a renewable resource to market elsewhere? Were they simply looking for more signs and wonders? Jesus’ words to them are words every community of faith since then has treasured: “Work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. It is real food, and I am the living bread, and my flesh is true food.”
But it is Passover bread, that is to say, bread to be broken and shared with others. Without such a literal feeding we shall not live. It’s not so much that the food distributed by the disciples was inexhaustible, it was that the life of Jesus, taken in, is inexhaustible.
The gospel writer makes a point of saying that the Passover was at hand prior to the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus was about to offer himself up as bread for the world.
The Rev. Ajit John is an associate priest at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, a vibrant multi-ethnic parish in Toronto, Canada.
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