17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2021

My Dear People, 

Today we begin the gospel of John, “The Bread of Life discourse” which will continue for the next five weeks. The Gospel implies that after the sabbath controversy in Jerusalem in chapter 5, Jesus traveled north to Galilee and Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. 

 Three noteworthy things set the scene that is about to occur.   

 First, a large crowd followed Jesus because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. The Gospel has shown that those who come to Jesus on account of His miracles often possess a shallow interest in Him because they see Him only as a wonder worker (2:23-25; 4:48). This crowd, drawn to Jesus by His miracles, probably fits this category.  

Second, Jesus went up on the mountain. The detail echoes the actions of Moses, who likewise went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. 

Third, the Jewish feast of Passover was near. This indicates John’s concern with linking the spiritual relationship of God’s plan for Jesus with the Exodus, the origin of Passover, especially God’s loving kindness for his people as shown in his providing them with food in the wilderness. 

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 display 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 for each of them to have only a little.

Andrew intervenes in the conversation by calling attention to a young boy with five 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 larger. 

Jesus’ gesture resembles 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 gift of his body and blood throughout chapter 6.  Another important detail concerns the one who feeds the crowd. In the Synoptics, Jesus gives bread to the disciples, who then feed the crowds (Matt. 14:19; Mark 6:41; 8:7: Luke 9:16). But John thus underscores that Jesus is the ultimate source of the bread for the crowds. 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.

After the crowd has eaten, Jesus orders His disciples to gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.  Of the four Gospel accounts of this miracle, only John records Jesus’ command and the reason for gathering the fragments. In doing so, John draws out the comparisons between Jesus’ gift of bread and the gift of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. Each morning the Israelites were to gather only enough manna for the day, and a double amount before the sabbath (Exod. 16:16-24).  If any manna was kept for the following day, it would spoil. But, unlike the manna, Jesus orders his disciples to gather the bread fragments so that they will not perish. The bread that Jesus gives is both like and unlike the manna. The mention of the twelve wicker baskets suggests completeness, and it may imply the number of apostles to whom the fragments are confided. 

Having experienced the feeding miracle, the crowd immediately concludes: This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world. The crowd believes that Jesus is the messianic Prophet-like-Moses (Deut. 18:15; see John 1:21; 4:19).  They recognize a connection between Jesus’ loaves feeding miracle and the giving of manna, and some Jewish circles were expecting manna to return in the time of the Messiah. Thus, they conclude that Jesus is this promised Messiah figure. However, Jesus does not go along with the crowd’s reaction. Instead, He withdrew again to the mountain alone in order to evade their plans to come and carry Him off to make Him king.  

God bless you, 

Fr. Vincent Clemente



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