After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.* 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When 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?’ 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages* would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8One 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?’ 10Jesus 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. 11Then 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. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When 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.
We suddenly find the story shifts back to Galilee – I should tell you that some commentators believe that Chapter 5 was somehow misplaced, and should come after 7:1. Another option is that John leaves out a space of time and travel, and comes back to a time when Jesus was in Galilee. However that came about, John again uses Jesus’ travels to transition. If you are counting the “signs” in John’s gospel, this passage gives the third great sign (1. water into wine; 2. healing on the Sabbath at Bethsaida; 3. feeding of the 5000).
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee, but a large crowd continued to follow him – because they had seen him healing the sick. (Again, evidence that there were many “signs” that John did not include, selecting specific ones that had meaning he wished to pass on.) Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down – in those days the teacher often sat down to teach. And all the people were there, on the mountainside, to hear what he would say. But Jesus turned to Philip and asked him where they could buy food to feed this crowd. (The narrator here tells us that this was a test, that Jesus already knew what he was going to do.) Phillip said that six months wages wouldn’t feed this crowd! But Andrew came forward, saying, there’s this kid here – he has five loaves and 2 fish – but what good will that do in this crowd?
Jesus said, have the people sit down – and they all sat in the grass – and there were about 5000 men (women and children weren’t counted, so the number was closer to 10,000). Think of a college football stadium on game day – how far would 5 barley loaves and 2 fish go?? But Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, broke the bread, and distributed them – and the fish as well. And when everyone had eaten until they were satisfied, Jesus had the disciples pick up the pieces that were left, 12 baskets full. And when the people saw this, they said Jesus was indeed a prophet! But Jesus, knowing they were going to try to make him king, withdrew to the mountain by himself.
This miracle is the only one (other than the resurrection) described in all four gospels. It was important to all the gospel writers. Why? When Jesus feeds God’s people in the wilderness, he reminds people of Moses and the manna in the wilderness as the people of Israel escape Egypt. But it was not Moses who provided the food in the wilderness; it was God. In this story, Jesus provides the food to the people in the wilderness. Again, the writer is reminding us of who Jesus is. Notice also, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and shares it with the people – does that remind you of something? It is another instance of Jesus’ breaking of the bread as host, welcoming and inviting the community to share in God’s hospitality; it is a reminder to the readers of the Sacrament of Communion. (John’s readers already knew of the Sacrament and could be reminded with subtlety; he makes several references to it through the gospel, especially in coming chapters, but does not mention it at the Last Supper.)
Let’s not leave this just yet — to be continued:
the picture is the Sea of Galilee, seen from an adjacent mountain where the Sermon on the Mount was preached.