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The miracle stories of the Gospels invite us to reflect on divine care and strategize ways that we can care for one another. Today’s Gospel focuses on the well-known story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with loaves and fish, a story that has inspired many loaves and fishes ministries, which serve food to people in need. Each of the Gospels includes this story, and today we hear John’s account.
‘This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’ (Jn 6:14)
How do you respond to the needs of others?
What can you do to help people increase their faith?
How does Scripture help you to reflect on divine care?
John offers unique details about this event that have symbolic significance. He locates this miracle near the time of Passover, which is associated with God’s saving power before the Exodus as well as unleavened bread. Fittingly, Jesus distributes bread to the crowd. Likewise, at the end of his ministry, Jesus’ crucifixion occurs on Passover in John, so the timing of this miracle helps to connect it with past salvific events and salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross.
After retreating to a mountain, Jesus and the disciples are followed by a large crowd. John says that Jesus knew he was going to perform a sign on this occasion, a detail that is not explicit in the Synoptics. If Jesus had planned to feed the people, his questions to the disciples take on a new significance. When Jesus asks Philip, for example, where they can buy food, this is interpreted as a test. Jesus may have wanted to see if Philip would realize his power or whether Philip would show compassion for the group.
It seems that Philip fails the test, neither affirming Jesus’ power nor offering to help. Instead, Philip focuses on the difficulty of feeding so many people. When Andrew informs the group about the five loaves and two fish, Jesus has the disciples organize the crowd so that he can serve them.
Jesus takes the food and offers prayers of thanksgiving. Unique to John is that Jesus himself distributes the food. In the Synoptics, Jesus has the disciples share the loaves and fishes. John may intentionally emphasize Jesus’ personal care and abilities. Jesus is also providing an example for the disciples as future leaders, modeling an interest and care for others.
Also, by having Jesus distribute the food, John includes clearer echoes of the Old Testament prophets who performed similar acts. In the first reading, from 2 Kings, for instance, we hear the story of Elisha feeding multitudes. Even though his servant, like the disciples, objected to trying to feed so many people, Elisha shares a small number of loaves of bread and ears of corn with many people, and there are leftovers.
Miracle stories, or more accurately signs of power, served multiple purposes for early Christians. Traditions about Jesus as a prophet who could perform wondrous deeds likely attracted people into the faith community. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection would be buttressed by having traditions of him doing extraordinary acts during his life. Beyond that, these stories offer examples and principles for Jesus’ followers. Jesus recognizes the needs of his community, and he responds quickly and effectively, demonstrating selflessness, adaptability and concern for the welfare of others. Jesus even makes sure the leftover food is gathered and not wasted, offering a reminder not to squander resources, but conserve them for the future. As we reflect on this story, we can be inspired and intentional about integrating its principles of care into our lives.