July 25, 2021  

For the next five Sundays [except for August 15th, Solemnity of the Assumption] the gospel passage will be taken from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. In today’s passage, Jesus’s crossing of the Sea of Galilee (at most 7 miles wide) probably means he is on the northwestern shore of the lake. In this passage we see a great miracle of Jesus which shows immense generosity. The evangelist John creates the perfect setting for this great miracle. The signs were Jesus' cures. The time was spring, close to Passover, the feast of liberation from slavery. The place was a mountain in the desert; on such a mountain, God gave the Law to Moses and revealed his power.

With such symbolism in place, John now proceeds to the miracle.  Jesus sees the large crowd looking for him; we are to assume that their real goal is to find life from him, through his teaching and his miracle-working.  The two disciples, Philip and Andrew, play their parts; most likely their mention is due, not to symbolism, but to remembering them as historically part of this miracle event.  John, notably more so than other writers, emphasizes the impossibility of the disciples feeding so many people; this detail means to stress the mighty power of Jesus to provide food for the hungry, and the weakness of the disciples.  Andrew points to the five loaves, a pittance from which will come a mighty demonstration of power.  Now 5000 men recline, ‘men’ because they symbolize the leaders of families, which are either present or being cared for in their homes.  Here, to say ‘men’ is not to deny the presence of women; culturally, the women would here have received bread from their men.     

The formula, he ‘took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them’ is meant to recall the now decades-old celebration of the Eucharist in Christian communities since the time of Jesus.  It is important to note that John writes that Jesus, not Jesus through his disciples, gives this saving food; it is Jesus who gives the Eucharist, not his disciples.  The crowd is filled with this bread. That now the disciples gather up the left-overs in 12 baskets offers symbolism.  We are not to think that the disciples carried 12 baskets after this miracle was complete; rather, each of the Twelve is now responsible, in symbol, for the distribution of sacred bread enjoyed now throughout the Mediterranean Basin.  This food, given by Jesus, and now to be distributed by the disciples in symbol, is plentiful – completely filling and yet ready to fill again.  The crowd sees not the symbolism, but the miracle and concludes that Jesus should be their king, i.e. the one who would provide them with the fullness of promised happiness that they desired.  Jesus flees from this crowd, aware of the crowd’s false interpretation of him.  Miracle is not the only sign that Jesus can save his people; there is the cross to experience.  The miracle story, with its rich symbolism, is complete.  John hopes his readers perceive the meanings of his symbols.     


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Updated: July 28, 2021

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