Gospel Reflection for July 26th, 2015: “Multiplication of the Loaves”
John 6: 1-15
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee [of Tiberias]. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit].” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
As is often the case with the gospels, I find that if I can walk in the shoes of one or more of the persons involved in the story, a relevance to my own struggles to live a life of faith emerges more clearly. It’s the old reader’s trick of seeing things from the perspective of a story’s characters. I find this especially true with gospel stories portraying Jesus’s miracles. While I believe God is performing miracles daily in my life and those of others, the ones portrayed in the gospels like the feeding of the 5000 from five loaves of bread and a couple of fish are on a scale beyond my personal experience. I accept Jesus did this, but how do I use this to grow closer to Christ? Beyond recognizing this sign of Jesus’s divinity, a lesson is difficult to perceive on first reading.
Still, I can relate to the skepticism of Philip and Andrew. From this acknowledgement, understanding proceeds. Jesus poses the problem of feeding the people in terms of a rational, analytic question, already knowing the food will be produced through a divine miracle. He leads them down this line of reasoning to demonstrate its inadequacy without faith. Philip’s answer indicates a logical flaw in Jesus’s question. Even if they could find this much food on short notice, how could they possibly pay for it? Common sense says it is a problem beyond solving.
Andrew shares Philip’s skepticism that the food can be provided; however, he points out what they have, the inadequate supply of bread and fish. This is instructive. It involves a step that in my own skepticism I often fail to take. He notes the resources that provide a starting point for the Lord to begin working on the problem. Perhaps John provides this detail to remind us it is better to act with our imperfect gifts in the faith that God will provide what is beyond our limited view than to dismiss the problem as unsolvable due to a lack of a rationale solution.
Jesus, as he so often does with our unsolvable problems, takes those imperfect resources and miraculously fills in what is lacking. The loaves and fish are multiplied and the hungry are fed with food left over! It should be noted that despite Philip and Andrew’s skepticism they cooperate with Jesus with complete fidelity and obedience. They instruct the men to recline in the grass with no hint of doubt or objection, even though they cannot possibly imagine what Jesus plans to do next. Their exemplary acceptance of Jesus’s guidance surely led many of those gathered to recline and be fed who were also probably wondering if they were going to eat that day. They did not prematurely leave in search of a better opportunity and go hungry as a result. Their faith was rewarded as God’s will was done.
I pray that as I encounter future “unsolvable” problems, like the apostles, I may work with what I have and act with faith that God’s solution will provide the rest of what is needed in a way that I probably can not imagine.