On the Gospel of John 6:1-15
17th Sunday of the Year
Jesus is sometimes presented as something of a helpless figure – a well-meaning teacher who gets caught up in circumstances beyond him. This Sunday’s Gospel entirely dispels this image of a passive Christ: he knows exactly what he is doing.
Jesus poses a question to Philip – ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ – but the Gospel makes clear that this question did not represent helplessness on Jesus’ part, and that he was only testing Philip, guiding him along. In fact, ‘he himself knew exactly what he was going to do’.
Then, after the great miracle of the feeding of the large crowd, Jesus senses something among the people present: he knows that they are ‘about to come and take him by force and make him king’. The worldly power they want to foist on him has nothing to do with his mission of establishing the Kingdom of God, so he acts decisively and flees alone.
In our own lives, we can forget the power of Christ. We can, like Philip and the other disciples, underestimate his ability to do great things; we limit him. On the other hand, we can, like the crowd, make use of Jesus for our limited, worldly goals. We might pray to him for success in exams, for romantic relationships, or for sporting glory, forgetting the need to submit our whole lives to him. In so many ways, we forget that Jesus is a living, acting person, one who knows his mind and has clear plans for us. We might have limited expectations, but if we are open to his power, he will exceed all our dreams, feeding us with finest wheat.
After this, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee– or of Tiberias- and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he had done in curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside and sat down there with his disciples. The time of the Jewish Passover was near. Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He said this only to put Philip to the test; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough to give them a little piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘Here is a small boy with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that among so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were sitting there; he then did the same with the fish, distributing as much as they wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing is wasted.’ So they picked them up and filled twelve large baskets with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. Seeing the sign that he had done, the people said, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, as he realised they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, fled back to the hills alone.
– John 6:1-15