Year B: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel: John 6: 1-15
Today, we embark on a series of readings from John’s Gospel. If you compare this section of the Gospel with Mark’s version (Mk 6: 30-52), you will find that it is very similar - and, strictly speaking, we could probably have had those. However, although Mark gives an account of the events, he offers no further insight beyond saying that “they did not understand” . In contrast, in what is called a “Sign Story”, John gives an account of the events and then offers a reflection exploring their meaning. The events are not simply recorded - they point us in the direction of something more profound.
In chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, we read of an encounter at a well which led to Jesus exploring the image of himself as Living Water. Today, we read of the Sign which John uses to allow Jesus to explore an image at the centre of faith: Jesus the Bread of Life.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand is well-known and there are many theories about what happened - how the miracle was effected and so on. There is dispute about whether there really was a miracle - had people simply brought food with them? This is, though, to risk missing the point of why the story is included in the Gospels. It is one of the few to appear in all four gospels and is told in almost exactly the same words. The detail of the five loaves and two fish and the size of the crowd had obviously made an impression on those who passed on the story - and the evangelists recognised that it was a story set in a much bigger context than simply providing a free picnic.
When Jesus was tempted in the desert, one of the temptations laid before him was to turn stones into bread - giving him the capacity to feed the hungry until they had their fill - a sure way to win friends and influence people. He had turned his back on this and yet today, takes the offering of a small child and uses that to feed a multitude. What has made the difference?
The first reason could be something from last week’s Gospel - Jesus was sorry for them - they, like scattered sheep were lost and hungry - and he wanted to feed them.
The second might be found in the small detail: it was shortly before the Jewish Feast of Passover - the feast when Jesus would celebrate his Last Supper - and give his life as bread for the world.
What does it mean for me?
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