John 6:1-21

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

These two stories, the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water, are stories that the Gospel of John shares with the synoptics. But as always, John develops these stories in highly distinctive ways. The story of the feeding of the 5000 is an introduction to along speech of Jesus interpreting the significance of the bread. That theme will provide the overall story for the next five weeks of lectionary. The story is introduced by Jesus' response to the large crowd that was following him, that is, he goes up on the mountain.This is the first of many motifs in this story in which Jesus acts like Moses. John develops the associations to Passover, the time of Israel's deliverance from Egypt.

The distinctive elements of this Johannine version of the feeding of the 5000 are present in its introduction as well as in the specifics of the story. Jesus asks Philip at the very beginning, "How are we going to provide bread for all these people?" and Philip is utterly flabbergasted. He has no idea how to respond and as he says, "Six months wages couldn't buy enough bread for each of these to have even a little." Philip is responding to the reality of the situation. So also is Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, when he identifies the young man who has five barley loaves and two fish. It's a joke in relation to what these little bits of food are going to do for all these people.

John focuses the humor of this story on the contrast between the number of people and the amount of available food. He highlights the impossibility of feeding all these people with the little bit that they have. John also identifies that Jesus said this to Philip in order to test him, because he knew what he was going to do. This is a motif that runs through the whole of this chapter: Jesus' foreknowledge of what is going to take place. In this case, the spirit in which you want tell the first part of this story is on the one hand the spirit of Passover—Jesus going up on the mountain to the place of power and authority—and on the other hand the humor of the questions and responses between Jesus and Philip and Andrew.

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