(Melbourne) David's previous articles
John 6: 1-15 The feeding of the five thousand
Gospel passage is situated in the middle of the first section of John’s
narrative commonly known as The Book of
Signs. It is a collection of over a dozen stories of Jesus’ miracles or signs as John calls them.
of the piece: Jump from the end of ch 4 where Jesus returns to Galilee from
Judea. Ch 5 is a Jerusalem visit story edited into the narrative. Here Jesus is
pictured with his disciples on a mountain near the Sea of Tiberias. It was close
to Passover time and a large crowd, having seen other healing signs
came to him. Even before he
attempted to teach them, he put a test question to Philip, How are we to buy enough bread so that these people may eat? Jesus
knew what he was intending all along.
timing of this story is very important for John. The Passover was the annual
Jewish memorial feast of national liberation. Perhaps many in the crowd here
were on their way to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and share the ancestral
memories. They would remember two things in particular: freedom and bread.
evoked strong passionate memories of the Exodus
– unleavened bread for the journey, manna in the desert, their survival
food and freedom from servitude. It was the National Feast of Liberation.
Political and religious authorities were particularly sensitive to any signs of disturbance and anything remotely suggesting mass disturbance or revolution.
The feeding of the five thousand in this story combines two very important
aspects of early Christianity. Firstly, the local contemporaries of Jesus were
mostly peasant farmers living on a subsistence economy. Bare survival was cause
for constant anxiety and preoccupation. “Give us this day our daily bread”
was more than just a prayer. Secondly,
the sheer bounty and generosity of the meal Jesus provided for the crowd became
embedded in their understanding of the Eucharist: there is more than enough for
all and there is plenty to go round tomorrow.
passage introduces a very lengthy Bread of
Life teaching by Jesus in which he compares the manna of the Exodus with the
bread that he would give, namely the Eucharist.
Judea was particularly volatile but Galilee was not a stranger to political
agitation and social-religious protest either. When Jesus was a boy, Judas the
Galilean led an abortive revolt against Roman taxation. This was brutally put
down as was another act of political-religious defiance when Pontius Pilate was
Procurator. This is explicitly mentioned in Luke,
were some present at that very time who told him (Jesus)
of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had
mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these
Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered
like this?” (13: 1-2)
was acutely aware that his actions and preaching could be open to
misunderstanding even manipulation by others. His fellow Jews, many of them
almost fanatics, were looking for a charismatic figure who would liberate them
from injustice and bring in the Kingdom of God. When they saw Jesus, the
wonder-worker, many thought that the liberator had finally come. When some heard
him preach the Kingdom of God, they thought they had the King David-like Messiah
in their midst. Jesus had to be very careful indeed and made it a point of de-politicising
his message. His prophetic words and deeds were about God, not him and the
Kingdom he preached was not of this world.
at the end of this story, the predictable happened, ‘When
the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the
prophet who would come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about
to come and take him by force (compel him)
to be king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.’ (6: 14-15.
See 7: 2)
would all eventually catch up with him, though as, He
suffered under Pontius Pilate…