17th of the Year, 25 July 21
Today`s Gospel passage from St. John 6 verses 1 – 15 – The Feeding of the Five thousand must be one of the best-known stories from the New Testament together with the Story of the Good Samaritan and the Story of the Prodigal Son all of which reflect the loving compassion of Jesus our Saviour. We find the story cropping up with minor variations in St. Matthew 14, verses 13-21, St. Mark 6, 32 to 44 and St. Luke 9, verses 10 – 17 reflecting how the Gospel writers recorded the account and, bearing in mind that only Matthew and John of the gospel writers were present.
St. John`s record refers, uniquely, to the fact that the miracle of the Feeding took place a little before the Feast of the Passover and the miracle took place on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. We notice too that Jesus had asked Philip, `Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?` John records that Jesus was putting Philip to the test! However, Philip was a local man from Bethsaida one of the lakeside fishing villages. However, John makes it plain that Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip, with practical common sense, replied that it would cost a small fortune, then 200 Denarii – now worth 200 days` wages or £21,000! That would only be enough to give them something very modest each.! Andrew, the so-called “First Chosen” and brother of Simon Peter, again local men like Philip though, probably from Capernaum, comes to the rescue, saying, `There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many ?` The response from Jesus was succinct and to the point saying to them, `Make the people sit down. `Twas a grassy spot and as many as five thousand men sat down (you could likely add a not disimillar number of women with children) so the whole crowd numbered about 12 thousand+! We are told that Jesus took the loaves, and gave thanks and gave them out to all present and, similarly the two fish, giving out as much a was wanted. After the supper party had finished, Jesus instructed the disciples to gather up what was left over and there was sufficient to fill twelve hampers or baskets-full form just five barley loaves and a couple of local lake-fish! No wonder the crowd were shocked into belief by what Jesus had done. `This really is the prophet who is come into the world.` According to St. John Jesus immediately assessed the situation seeing that the crowd would want to take hi by force and make him their king! We are told that he escaped back to the hills by Himself. What Jesus had wanted would not, on this occasion be fulfilled.
Unique to St. John`s account of the miracle is the reference to the young lad, pointed out by Andrew, who had the five barley loaves and two small fish. Barley loaves and local fish would have been a staple of the local peasantry – nothing fancy but good wholesome basic food for a journey or picnic. Some have conjectured that the lad, maybe a slave with time off, was hoping to make money by selling his supper, others have considered that the lad, impresses by seeing Jesus, volunteered the offering of his picnic for the benefit of Jesus and the crowd. All will be revealed in God`s good time but remember how, elsewhere, Jesus says that in our relationship with God we must become like little children – not least where trust and obedience is concerned.
There is no waste, Jesus commands that the food left over be gathered up – and there were twelve baskets full!
Clearly there is the lesson that just as Moses, in the wilderness, after beseeching God, had manna provided for the Twelve Tribes of Israel so this is a sign the Jesus is able to provide food for His followers who become the New Israel for this miracle took place in the Jewish area of Galilee.
A little later in St. John`s Gospel, chapter 6 verse 35, Jesus declares to his disciples: `I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never thirst.` To expand on this saying is the subject for another sermon.
Who is the hero of St. John`s account of the story ? Well, it is the young lad, who, it seems, at Andrew`s prompting, handed over his picnic supper to the Lord. He doesn`t say, “Have a share of my supper.” But rather, it seems, handed it over voluntarily holding nothing back. The lesson, then, for us, is that to serve God in Christ Jesus there must be no holding back. We need to give our whole selves, body, mind, spirit, skills, time, talents – warts and all to Him to do with each of us as He pleases – and then watch Him do with us things beyond our imagination.
Remember too how all present on that wonderful occasion, the young lad included, with all that they needed or wanted.
The story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and indeed that of the Four Thousand found in St. Mark`s Gospel chapter 7, is foretold in the story of Elisha in chapter 4 of the second book of the Kings which we heard as the first reading at today` Mass.
In the second reading from St. Paul`s letter to the Church at Ephesus he implores his readers/hearers as he does us too in our time to: “Do all you can to preserved the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, through all and within all.”
Let us never forget that it is God, in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit who call us and has dojne so from before time began and it is He who is the source of our Life and of lur salvation.