Today’s Author: Carol Swanson

On Sunday we heard again the Gospel of John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 (found in 6:1-14). We had listened to it last February, as well as the “I am the Bread of Life” discourse. I happened to write devotionals for it at that time as well, and I want to do a recap on some of that, but then take it further.  

Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash

We think of John spreading the ministry of Jesus over 3 years. Actually, John mentions 3 Passovers: one the first week of Jesus’s ministry, just after his first sign, changing the water into wine; the third, the preparation for Passover at the time of his crucifixion; and the middle Passover ‘drawing near’ in chapter 6, at the Feeding of the 5,000. Also, this is the 4th sign of 7 (the middle one) that we mark throughout his ministry as well. In February, I wondered if the writer of John crafted this centeredness on purpose. I think he did. 

In John’s Gospel, we witness God’s activity and purpose in Jesus. ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’ (1:18) And the feeding of the 5000 is John’s sacramental meal.   All of life is sacramental, sacred, lived in the presence of God, the Giver of life, the Bread of life.  And all are invited. 

The theme “Come and See” that we heard repeated in earlier chapters, we hear partly echoed in John 6:5, as thousands are coming to see who this Jesus is. Who makes up this crowd?  Men, women, children, tax-collectors, sinners, outcasts, seekers. We can only imagine. 

 ‘When [Jesus] looked up and saw a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do.’ 

Who is Jesus testing? Philip seems overwhelmed with how much would be needed—and the expense!  Andrew finds the boy with the 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, but he is unsure that is useful.  Does it take a child to openly share, to give freely without fear of loss or consequences? Did others share? 

‘Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about 5,000 in all.’ 

I think of Psalm 23, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul….’ And of Jesus’s claim, “I Am the Good Shepherd” in chapter 10, who ‘came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (10:10)

After giving thanks for the bread, it is Jesus himself who ‘distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, [Jesus] told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled 12 baskets. 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.”’ (6:11-14) 

Such abundance! 12 baskets! (Symbolic of 12 tribes, 12 disciples?)  And nothing lost. Two promising themes that run through the gospel.  We are told that the community that first heard John’s Gospel had been cast out of the synagogue, no longer welcome, because they called Jesus Lord. But Jesus called them his own.  ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (3:16) (“Lost” and “perish” are the same word in Greek. Also see 6:27, 39; 10:28; and 18:9)  

Why is this narrative centered so deliberately in the middle of John’s Gospel?  All of life is sacramental, sacred.  And in this shared meal, we experience community, abundance, life eternal.  

Next Sunday when we share communion, again we will not come forward to the table, but will be scattered in the pews or at home. Imagine we are seated together in the grassy field with Jesus, with one another, experiencing the loving presence of God in [whom] we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

Let us pray together the well-known couplet table grace that has been part of our Opening Litany these last weeks.

Come Lord Jesus be our guest
and let these gifts to us be blessed. 
And with the additional lines (new to me),
And let there be an ample share.
on every table everywhere. Amen.