17th Sunday of the Ordinary Time
Gospel Reading John 6:1-14
1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
11 Then 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.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
14 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.” 15When 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.
Points for Reflection
The crowd and the Sign(s)
The narrative begins with Jesus moving to the other side of the Lake. Interestingly, a great crowd of people was following him. John provides us the motive why people were following Jesus—“they saw signs.” This sign was how Jesus cured the sick people (v.2). One has to do simple imaginations: at an era where sickness was related to curse and medical science was far from the horizon of people’s understanding—curing would have been a great miracle. However, quite interesting in the narrative of John is that, the evangelist was not mentioning that these great crowd of men were already believing in Jesus as Divine or Son of God. They were following him because of the healing powers of Jesus.
In the gospel narrative, Jesus performed another sign (vv.5-13)—he fed the five thousand men reclining in the grass to their hearts content from barely five loaves and two fishes. This has amazed those who witnessed the miracle performed such that they confessed: “he [Jesus] performed a sign for he himself is truly a prophet the one who comes to the world” (v.14).
Quiet interesting in the narrative development of the gospel written by john is the progress in the faith journey of the people. Initially they were simply interested of the miracles performed (the healing) but with the feeding of the multitude with few bread and fish, these people now have made a more concrete confession of who Jesus is: “a prophet—one who is to come to the world.”
However, one realizes that the journey of faith is not yet complete or at its ideal level. This is seen in the reaction of Jesus when they desired to make him a king–“He withdrew to the mountains again by himself” (v.15). There must be something lacking in the hearts and minds of the people before Jesus would commit himself to be their King. Jesus seemed to have left with the crowd even his own disciples.
The Disciples Did not See Coming the Test of Jesus
One could hardly imagine the surprise the disciples had to the test of their faith–“from where can we buy bread in order to feed these people?” Following Jesus because He called them is a process leading to understanding his mind, his heart and eventually to becoming like Him. But this invitation is not without a test. The responses of the two disciples are a cross section of the human response to challenges. The first response is one coming from weakness, incapability and powerlessness–“Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (v.7). One can almost hear the sense of sarcasm or tone of ridicule expressing the impossibility of becoming charitable at an imaginable circumstance. The human limitations and finiteness over rules and dominates before a divine and seemingly impossible challenge. The second and alternative response is that of resignation to the impossible yet attempting to contribute from what is humanly possible: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people? (v. 9) One can here a sigh of resignation with some flicker of hope. Needless to say, it is likewise simply humanly impossible.
The Passover and Eucharistic Contexts of the Sign
John the evangelist has woven together two very important liturgical contexts for the story of the Journey of faith both of the crowd and the disciples. The first is the Passover—the feast of the Jews (v. 4). This celebration is one of the most important in Jewish calendar because is commemorates the freedom God has given to his people. The second is the Eucharistic language with which the miracle of the bread happens “Therefore, Jesus took the bread and after he had given thanks [eucharistesas] distributed to those who were seated.” The eucharist is a thanksgiving for the sacrifice of Jesus to liberate humanity from the clutches of sin and to make us all children of God once more.
The two contexts are very unanimous with the theme of freedom from sin and freedom to become children of God. This freedom is best offered by Jesus to his disciples and to all people. This freedom has to be accepted with much faith in Jesus and equally with human contribution of good works founded on the same faith.
The signs that Jesus performed in and for us must lead us to the offering and surrendering of our faith in the Son and confession of our love for our God and people.