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 said yesterday we were not quite ready to leave this passage – there are so many layers of meaning to this miracle. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them — just as we take the bread, give thanks, break it, and give it to the church as community in the service of Holy Communion. The author will delve deeper there before the end of chapter six, as Jesus proclaims himself the bread of life. For now, the reader (John’s church community first of all) is meant to see that Jesus feeds the people in the wilderness – as God provided manna, so Jesus provides bread. The people respond as if he were a prophet – they think of Moses as providing manna in the wilderness – but it was not Moses, but God, who provided the manna. And it is God who feeds them on that hillside, in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is no prophet; he is God’s own Son. (The Jews and the Muslims would be willing to agree with the crowd in this story; they too believe Jesus was a great prophet. As Christians, we see something more.)
And then Jesus sees the mood of the crowd starting to turn – they would take him by force and make him king. Scenes of mob rule fill our TV screens – rebellions in Syria and in the Ukraine. Pain and destruction follow such rebellions. Jesus did not come to be a part of any political regime or movement. He was not a freedom fighter, nor a Democrat, nor a Republican; he would not raise an army and fight against Caesar. When he sensed the way the crowd was turning, he withdrew.
Jesus withdrew to the mountain to be alone with God. When the crowd starts to press in; when we are hard pressed on all sides; we too should withdraw to the mountain and be alone with God.