Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Jesus' gift of food brings new life
The crowd sees Jesus as the Prophet who will care for and feed them
July 30, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Chapter six is one of the most important chapters in the Gospel of John and centers on a life enhancing sign in which Jesus was to feed a hungry crowd by the Sea of Galilee. People will always argue on the background of the story. Some will suggest it must be taken literally. Others will say that it was nothing more than a time which Jesus persuaded people to share the food that they had with them. Others may even argue whether it took place before the resurrection or after.
One thing we do know that in various forms it appears in each of the gospels. That fact alone argues on how important it was to these first Christian writers. It must have been an inspirational story with deep meaning. It captures an important event in the life of Jesus telling us theologically something about his mission. John, in telling his story, puts the location across the Sea of Galilee just as Mark does. It includes the number 5000 and tells of the involvement of the apostles.
The story of the feeding tells us something about the impact Jesus had upon the people of his time. They followed him to see further signs he might perform. John tells us that they followed him because of the signs he was performing on the sick. Sign is John's word for what Mark calls a healing. Sign, for John, is something that points to a deeper reality. John adds details that emphasize the eucharistic references. It happened when the Jewish feast of the Passover was near: Jesus gave thanks "eucharistesas" over the bread; and Jesus personally gave it to the crowd. The episode will lead to John's extended discussion on both the importance of Jesus' words and his gift of the bread of life.
Unlike Mark, John says nothing about the reason of why he will help the crowd. Mark had said that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark also stressed that Jesus, therefore, began to teach them. For John this is an important sign, which will confirm Jesus' role and his mission.
Two of Jesus' disciples play a role in the story. Philip who tells him they don't have enough money to buy food for such a crowd. Andrew points to a boy who has a little food, five barley loaves and two fish. Both are faithful but they don't believe that Jesus can help the crowd and they lack an understanding faith.
The five barley loaves are important for the nearness of the Passover as well as the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. Both Old Testament feasts point to a past event the Exodus and first time Israel celebrated it after entering the promised land. These feasts looked back and also looked forward to the coming Messianic times an age of fulfillment. The fish are mentioned and we do know early in Christian circles they and the word became symbols of Christ. Jesus, like Moses of old, fed the hungry crowd. There is such abundance that as in the Messianic end times twelve baskets of bread are left over.
The crowd is impressed and saw Jesus as the Prophet who, like Moses, would care for and feed them. Jesus knew, though, that they had not really understood the meaning of what he had done. The Christian community, though, later recognized what this great gift Jesus had given them was. From the first beginnings of the church they celebrated and received the bread of the new age. They believe that in this gift they were being fed by Jesus himself with a food that brought new life.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)