The Saint John’s Bible, John Frontispiece: The Word Made Flesh. Donald Jackson, 2002
Tuesday, May 19th
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6: 1-15
This beautiful, inspiring image of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes is one that we’ve all loved since we were preschoolers. The story was often then titled “The Boy Who Shared His Lunch”. During our current experience, the phrase “feeding the multitudes” brings another example of sharing to mind.
I don’t know about you, but in our house, José Andrés is quite a hero. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Spanish-American chef, who founded his World Central Kitchen in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Since then, the WCK has provided meals in the wake of disasters in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Peru, Cuba, Uganda, Cambodia, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Since the dawning of the Covid crisis, Andrés has become a voice of compassion and energizing practicality. One of the first things he did was to get on a plane and fly across the country to the quarantined Princess cruise ship off the coast of California to find a way to feed stranded crew members and passengers. Now the WCK is providing over 250,000 fresh meals every day in dozens of cities, feeding people in 400 hospitals, and keeping restaurants open by purchasing over a million meals for local residents in cities where traditional safety nets like school programs and food banks are struggling to meet basic needs. It’s working to assist farmers whose normal means of product distribution have disappeared, so that their urgently-needed food doesn’t go to waste. There are many people like Chef Andrés right now living out their callings in ways that embody God’s mind, heart, and hands to a dangerous world; they’re calling us all to the Kingdom banquet Jesus came to share.
Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke, tell us that Jesus and His disciples had intentionally chosen to get away from the adoring crowds. It seems that Jesus’ teachings and healings were attracting throngs of people wanting to get close to him, much like, I suppose, today’s groupies hovering around the most trendy celebrities. In the Synoptics, Jesus and the disciples had even gone to the extent of getting in a boat to get away. However, the crowds anticipated where they were going and showed up on the shore when the disciples and Jesus arrived. In John’s Gospel, the crowds pursue Jesus, and Jesus’ response inspires John’s next “sign”.
Jesus turns to his disciple Philip and asks for directions so that they can buy food for everyone. Now, this mention of Philip is interesting, because he is mentioned only once in the Synoptics, in the listing of the disciples. In John’s Gospel, we find a fuller description of him. Philip is from Bethsaida, the same hometown as Andrew and Simon Peter. His coming to follow Jesus immediately turned him into an evangelist, because he went and sought out Nathanael. It was in that calling that we hear the strangely sarcastic question, “What good thing could come out of Nazareth?” Philip is mentioned again in John’s Gospel in that intimate upper room setting where, on that last night together, he asks about the relationship between Jesus and the Father-God.
Biblical scholar John Arthur Gossip wrote an interesting piece about Philip in his commentary concerning this text. He makes the case that Philip was not the brightest bulb in the box, that of all Jesus’ disciples he was usually the last to catch on, to understand the master’s nuances and parables. Thus, Jesus was taking great pains in this particular experience to give Philip a lesson in understanding Jesus’ mission and ministry. It is a test, of sorts, one that if passed, would verify that Philip understood, and if failed, would give the impetus for more training. Evidently Jesus’ methods worked on Philip, because in the history of the church the tradition is that Philip went to the Greek-speaking world and testified mightily on behalf of Christ.
There are other things to note this remarkable story. None of the four Gospel writers were explicit in describing the physical nature of this miracle. That is, we don’t hear or see Jesus doing anything magical or mystical – no abracadabras here, no waving wands or hands or anything else. This is one of the reasons that many scholars, rather than viewing this as a supernatural event, see it as a remarkable “miracle of the heart.” William Barclay, the Scottish minister and author of New Testament commentaries, writes that the miracle had an earthy aspect. He says that Andrew brought the young lad to Jesus, with the boy offering from his lunch box (actually a pocket inside his cloak which was the practical storage place for all people on the go in that day and time) two fish and five barley loaves. Barclay hypothesizes that the boy’s generosity freed up the crowd’s tendency to hold back, and they all reached inside their pockets and produced enough food for everyone with twelve pockets left over. Jesus took the example of the boy and used it on everyone, thus causing a commotion of grace.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a time when she was doing student work, taking a group of teenagers on a mission trip to work on an Arizona Navajo Indian Reservation. She said that they went with a few paint brushes and some other assorted tools, and, most of all, a vague notion of how to do repairs. In other words, they went with the equivalent of “five loaves and two fish.” They were to join 200 other students and sponsors. However, the Navajo tribal officials didn’t think that they were really coming. Consequently, no arrangements had been made, no supplies bought. On the first morning, they were sent out to work in groups of five to some forty homes, with instructions to do things such as build sheep pens, roof houses, or build porches. Barbara’s own group was handed eight boxes of linoleum tile, some scrapers, glue, razor blades, a measuring tape, a couple of doors and an electric drill. Barbara said that she and the youth were elated, but they had almost no idea about how to use them. They were working in a home owned by Frank and Dolly Hart, a house that had no electricity or running water. Undaunted, the youth went to work, and the Navajos observing were impressed by their industry . . . so much so that many stopped by during the day just to watch and shake their heads. Halfway through the week a funny thing began to happen. Navajos who had been watching from the sidelines began to pitch in. Old Mr. Hart, who could not walk without a cane, patched the sheetrock in the room where they were working. At other work sites, Navajos started showing up, finishing what was left undone. A whole crowd of young Navajos showed up to help rebuild Annie Bega’s hogan, the traditional log and earth dwelling in which many Navajos live. The thinking was that if young people could come all the way from the East Coast to work on old Annie’s house, they guessed the least they could do was help. There were so many of them they almost put the visiting youth out of business, but Annie Bega said to let them work, that it was a miracle. She said she had been praying for the day when those Navajo boys would wake up from their sleep and do something for someone else. She said it was an answer to her prayers – five crummy loaves and two dried up fish. At the end of the week, 42 out of the 46 projects were complete. Thousands of dollars had been spent as well, and the neighborhood was dotted with new roofs, new paint, new corrals, new tile, new stucco, new porches. A representative from the Navajo youth organization stood up to thank Barbara and the youth groups. She gave the director of the work camp two Navajo rugs, several portraits of their leaders, a huge Navajo nation flag and 240 smaller ones for each person to take home. She said that made the group honorary Navajos, and finally, through her tears, said that they loved them and would never ever forget them.
A few supplies, little expertise and a lot of love produced a generosity that begat generosity. It was a miracle. I think Jesus performed miracles to teach all of us Philips the amazing grace of God, the kind of grace that can make a complacent heart generous. As our friend, George Mason, notes, sometimes faith can evoke a miracle, and sometimes a miracle can evoke faith. Remembering Jesus’ words to Philip, or God’s words to Moses, the question for us today is “What do we hold in our hands?”
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
Consider the following thought by Jesuit priest Mark Link: “It is said that medieval Christians believed because of Jesus’ miracles, while modern ones believe in spite of them. Not everyone agrees with this statement, but most agree with the point underlying it. We moderns are products of our scientific age. And one of our unspoken laws seems to be this: we can explain everything. By definition we tend to rule out the mysterious. But when it comes to the life of Jesus, we must confront the mysterious head on. We cannot rule it out or ignore it.”
Something miraculous is often described as turning the world upside down — or someone’s world upside down. Have you ever witnessed a miracle?
Have you ever considered a gift you possess that seems so insignificant, but if shared generously, through God’s grace might work a miracle?
A Musical Guide for Prayer: Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise”
She calls out to the man on the street ‘Sir, can you help me? It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep, Is there somewhere you can tell me?’ He walks on, doesn’t look back He pretends he can’t hear her Starts to whistle as he crosses the street Seems embarrassed to be there.
Oh think twice, it’s another day for you and me in paradise Oh think twice, ’cause it’s just another day for you, You and me in paradise, think about it
She calls out to the man on the street He can see she’s been crying She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet She can’t walk but she’s trying.
Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you, You and me in paradise, think about it Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do Oh Lord, there must be something you can say
You can tell from the lines on her face You can see that she’s been there Probably been moved on from every place Cause she didn’t fit in there.
Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you, You and me in paradise, just think about it, think about it