Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. – John 6:1-15
Today’s passage is a familiar story about fish and loaves that has been recounted in several different ways in the Gospels. There are apparently two different versions or events that involve fish and loaves with the primary difference being the details of how many people, loaves, and fish. In Matthew 14:17 there are 5000 people, five loaves, and two fish. Interestingly, this account did not contain a water reference so it was not one of the ones I reflected on for this blog. I did reflect on another version involving 4000 people, seven loaves, and a few small fish that comes a bit later in Matthew in a post was called Healing and Feeding (Matthew 15:29-39).
Mark also contains an account of the feeding of 5000 with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:31-44); and an account of feeding 4000 with seven loaves and a two small fish, but again neither of the Mark passages contain a water reference so I floated on by them. Luke also recounts a water-reference free version with 5000 men, five loaves, and two fish (Luke 9:12-17). So what is it about feeding people that makes these stories so important to share? I think it comes down to three m’s, miracle, Messiah, and modelling. Let’s explore each of these “reaches” of this passage separately.
First the miracle, obviously things like turning water into wine and making a few fish and loaves capable of feeding thousands of people represent suspensions of physical laws and could be viewed as mere magic. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark wrote in 1962 “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Bear with me here, I am not suggesting Jesus was an alien using technology to perform these miracles. What I am suggesting is that as the author of the logos, or underlying reason behind all things, he did not have to. I would suggest a spiritual version of the Clark quote, “any sufficiently spiritual savior can care for His people in a way that is indistinguishable from magic”. Of course those who acknowledge that Jesus is both man and Messiah would call this “magic” miracles.
Jesus spans the physical and spiritual providing a window between these very different worlds. What would seem impossible from our viewpoint here in the land of oblivion is normal for the One behind the one-way mirror in the undiscovered country where Jesus ultimately resides.
The second “m” is modelling. Every good teacher and parent knows that modelling is one of the most effective ways to teach. Especially when the subject of your teaching is spiritual in nature. This teaching technique is alluded to when Jesus says to Philip “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” This was clearly a rhetorical question meant to invoke a spiritual squall in Philip’s soul, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Jesus was using this teachable moment to model for his disciples and the crowd what faithful following looks like.
The last “m” is Messiah. The crowd and Jesus’ disciples clearly saw something different in the man who was teaching them using these miraculous meals and healing. The crowd says “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” They recognized that Jesus was able to bend time and understand things that no one but a prophet could understand, but they ultimately missed the point. Their idea of the Messiah was a mixture of military leader and monarch for the people. They had grown accustomed to being led by leaders that fit this mold, but Jesus would have none of this forced monarch role, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
Jesus knew that if He allowed the crowd to crown Him king they would lose site of the redemption role that was approaching on the horizon. It is so much easier to crown a king than to understand and accept the sacrifice of a savior. I think this is because all of us lesser vessels for God’s spirit wear “hairy crowns” and like to rule our own lives. We must dethrone ourselves and reject the temptation to make the Messiah into a monarch. He was, is, and will be so much more.
Prayer: God help us to see the Messiah as more than a monarch.