Reflecting on John for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:1-15


Upon seeing a large crowd approaching, Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus does not ask this question out of ignorance but to test Philip. By doing so, he invites Philip to grow in his faith in him. Instead, Philip thinks in terms of money: it would take an enormous sum, the better part of a year’s wages, to feed such a large crowd—and only for each of them to have a little.

Andrew intervenes in the conversation by calling attention to a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. His mention of barley loaves recalls the incident in 2 Kings 4:42–44, where the prophet Elisha fed more than one hundred men with twenty barley loaves. But like Philip, Andrew contrasts the enormity of the crowd with the small means at hand: What good are these for so many?

Jesus acts on his intention to feed the crowd. He first tells the disciples, Have the people recline: get them ready to eat. The comment about grass recalls Ps 23:2, where the psalmist says of YHWH his shepherd, “In green pastures he makes me lie down.” The disciples obey Jesus’ instruction, and the men reclined, about five thousand in number. With the presence of women and children, the crowd would have been even larger.

Jesus’ gestures resemble accounts of the Last Supper in the Synoptics: he took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them. While John’s Gospel does not narrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, it underlies Jesus’ teaching on the giving of his body and blood throughout chapter.

Another important detail concerns the one who feeds the crowd. In the Synoptics, Jesus gives the bread to the disciples, who then feed the crowds (Matt 14:19; Mark 6:41; 8:7; Luke 9:16). But John does not mention any role of the disciples; Jesus feeds the crowd directly. John thus underscores that Jesus is the ultimate source of the bread for the crowd. Philip and Andrew stressed the scant means to feed such a huge crowd, but Jesus miraculously produces a superabundance of bread. The entire crowd was completely satisfied, for all had as much bread and fish as they wanted.


© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.