Most all of us know the account of the feeding of 5,000 found in John 6 verses 1-13. Jesus had went across the Sea of Galilee or if you prefer the Sea of Tiberias, the people had followed watching the things he did for those who were sick. I have shared with you in past blogs how we have become so familiar with these “stories” from the bible that we often read the words and miss what lies beyond; those things which move us from mere words to the gospel and enrich our minds and fill our hearts with hope. I love to read what others have written about certain verses and I mean the plural, more than just a couple of people. There are several commentaries that I often turn to. One of my favorites is “The Daily Bible Study” series written by William Barclay.
So let’s go beyond the words and follow Mr. Barclay’s thoughts on this miracle. You can picture in your minds the moment that the disciples realized the enormity of the crowd that had followed Jesus.
It is late in the day and the first thoughts are those of any normal person.
The realization that the people must be hungry by now. Step back for a moment and consider how we have arrived at this point. Jesus was under constant pressure from the demands of the crowds that always followed him. There were times he attempted to withdraw, get some much needed rest and even if possible instruct his disciples, leading them to a better understanding of who he was and what he was doing; preparing them for what was coming. There is a lot of detail in Barclay’s writings, things that help us understand the who, what and why of our gospel readings. I will as they say “cut to the chase”.
Second was Jesus’s wish to not call attention to himself at this time.
Jesus had gotten into a boat to put some distance between him and the growing crowd. At this time it was wise to avoid any confrontation between Jesus and the authorities for it was not yet his time. Jesus got in the boat and set sail from Capernaum to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It was easy to see the direction the boat was taking. The distance would be about four miles. Let’s set the scene.
-They were headed for the fords of Jordan and near a village called Bathsaida Julias, this was the village Philip came from. Near this village there was a little plain where the grass always grew and here will be a wondrous happening.
-The Feast of the Passover is near, meaning the roads in the area were full of people going to Jerusalem.
-Jesus went up into the hill behind the plain and he was sitting there with his disciples.
-Also it is possible that the numbers of the crowd were swelled by travelers on their way to the Passover and seeking to avoid the territory of the hated Samaritans.
Thirdly would be:
Jesus’ concern upon seeing the size of the gathering crowd and condition of the people. They were hungry and tired and the route they had taken to avoid the Samaritans had added distance and time to their travel. At this point we get to the heart of our story. The weight of the problem being laid at Philip’s feet, which was really Jesus testing him. Philip would be the natural one to go to as he would have local knowledge of the area. Philip’s despair was evident. It would take more than six months wages to feed a crowd like this and they would be doing well if they had a days wages amongst themselves. It would also be a miracle if this much food could be bought or found in this area.
Coming in at number four on the list.
Andrew, he had discovered a young boy with five loaves of barley bread and two small fishes. A couple of notes here.
-Barley bread was the bread of the very poor.
-The fish most likely small sardine like fish which swarmed in the Sea of Galilee. They would have been pickled as fresh fish were an unheard of luxury.
-Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus.
Andrew went in search of something believing God would provide. He was not accepting things as they were, he had faith in what Jesus could do. Well we know what happened here. Jesus told the people to be seated, taking the Barley bread and two small fishes, breaking them up and distributing them until all had eaten their fill. He even told the disciples to gather what was left and put in baskets, so none would be wasted. Familiar story but beyond the words is a wonderful possibility. In a world of show me and widespread hostility, miracles have a rough road to travel. Even looking back most people today discount, disbelieve or avoid accepting anything as a miracle. Old or New Testament receive the same treatment, skepticism or out right unbelief. Admit, many just find it hard to conceive and herein lies the wonder of this story. Here in my opinion is William Barclay’s uncanny ability to offer insight through the Holy Spirit that could very well be truth. The question what is “The meaning of a miracle” has many answers and explanations. The truth is we will never know what happened on that hill and plain near Bethsaida Julias. Barclay has three possibilities. I like the third one and will share it with you.
It is not likely these people had just left on a nine mile trip without making any preparations at all, considering the burden of travel in those times. Barclay also points out that if there were pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, who got caught up in the excitement of the day and fell in with the crowd following Jesus, they most surely would have possessed supplies for their journey. Miracle, consider this when taken literally it is easy for some to question such a small amount doing so much. You know when Christ spoke about being born again, even the Apostles thinking in a literal sense were confused. Maybe these people acting as many would were not about to produce what they had allowing their human side to selfishly keep it all for themselves. Look at it this way. Jesus producing what little he and the disciples had, and with a smile thanked God for what they had and began to pass it out. Maybe the miracle was not the changing of the loaves and fish but of men and women, who seeing what Jesus did, they followed his lead.
Well we have come a long way beyond the words and I will leave you with these two points in William Barclay’s own words.
-There was Andrew. There is a contrast between Andrew and Philip. Philip was the man who said: ‘The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done.’ Andrew was the man who said: ‘I’ll see what I can do; and I’ll trust Jesus to do the rest.’
-There was the boy. He had not much to offer, but in what he had Jesus found the materials of a miracle. There would have been one great deed fewer in history if that boy had withheld his loaves and fishes.Little is always much in the hands of Christ.
*You can find ‘Daily Bible Study” at most major bookstores also can be purchased on-line. It is a complete commentary on the entire New Testament and will provide many hours of profitable study. Thanks for reading and remember that there are many paths to study and read the Gospel in this digital world,while never forgetting to pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.