John 6:1-15 – Daily Bread
Sarah and I both enjoy cooking. But one of our worst experiences was agreeing to cook for the youth group camp in our first year at St. Thomas’. Cooking itself wasn’t such a bad decision. But doing so with twins who were about 18 months old at the time was. Plus we’d also agreed to be ‘camp parents’. Plus I’d somehow ended up doing all the talks for the weekend. Which meant there was really only ever one of us in the kitchen. The worst part was that we’d foolishly decided to make three different kinds of pasta and two desserts for their formal dinner. It was a big weekend!
At this point in John’s gospel there’s been some big things going on. Jesus has performed some pretty incredible miracles, or signs as John calls them. In verse 2, John tells us a large crowd was following Jesus on account of these signs, in particular the signs Jesus was doing for the sick. The words John uses are continuous, they’d keep following, because they keep seeing the amazing things that Jesus kept doing. But Jesus is ready to escape from all this attention, so he takes his disciples off to an area many of them would’ve been familiar with, the mountains beside the Sea of Galilee.
But almost as soon as he sits down, Jesus looks up and sees the great crowd that’s coming near. There’s no escaping them! But as Jesus looks out, he’s not annoyed or frustrated. Instead John tells us that Jesus has compassion for their immediate physical needs. Jesus looks out at the crowd and he turns to Phillip and asks; ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ Of the twelve disciples, Philip’s the natural one to ask, as he hails from Bethsaida, a nearby city. If any of the disciples know where they might get food for the crowd its Phillip.
John’s like someone telling a story who can’t help but give out spoilers, dropping hints about what’s going to happen. He’s probably not the kind of person you’d want to go and see a movie with! He wants us to be clear in verse 6, that Jesus already knew the answer to the question. We’re reminded of Matthew 6:8, that God knows our needs before we even ask him. Jesus is aware of our needs, and is more than capable of meeting them, even before we know what they are, let alone ask him. Even before the crowds gathered, before the question of food ever came up, Jesus was aware of the crowd’s need. Jesus already knew what he was going to do, but he asked the question to test his disciples, to see how far they’d come in their faith and understanding. It was a test; one they didn’t do so well in. It’s a good reminder that no matter how long we’ve been following Christ, we never reach the point of knowing everything, of having all the answers. It’s why we need to keep reading the bible, keep studying God’s word, and applying it to our lives.
Philip’s stumped. He can only think of an immediate, economic, solution. It would take eight month’s wages, or two hundred denarii, about $30 000 in today’s money, to buy enough bread for the people. Even if they could find a bakery big enough, that much money would only be enough to buy everyone a tiny morsel, let alone a satisfying meal! The situation’s impossible! There’s no way it can be done!
Just then, another one of the disciples, Andrew, comes forward. Back in chapter 1, we read that Andrew brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. Now he’s doing it again, bringing someone to Jesus! Andrew’s been out canvassing the crowd, checking out what’s available. And he’s managed to find a young boy, the only one who’d had the foresight to pack a lunch! Not that what the boy has is much. All he’s got is five loaves and two fish. John makes mention that these are barley loaves. We might think it’s a pretty good meal. A nice little picnic that this boy has packed. When you think of barley loaves, you might picture a nice artisan loaf of bread. Last time I went to looking for barley flour, I had to go to a specialty store and pay $8 a kilo! But in Jesus’ day, barley was cheaper than wheat, so barley loaves were the food of the poor. What’s more it wouldn’t have been loaves, but more like small flat rolls that this boy had. And it wouldn’t be a nice piece of salmon that he’d packed but some small, pickled fish to make the bread palatable. This isn’t a nice picnic lunch, it’s a basic, meager meal. It’s a pauper’s meal. But one that this boy, and indeed many in the crowds were familiar with. This wasn’t a rich region, simple, basic food, was all they had.
Andrew brings this poor boy, with his small, simple food forward, knowing it’s not going to go too far. It’s barely enough to feed one child, let alone the disciples, forget about the crowd of five thousand or more! Andrew’s driving home Phillip’s point. There’s no way they can feed the people. What little they have is laughable.
But Jesus is undeterred. He doesn’t laugh. He tells the disciples to get the crowd to sit down on the green grass. And then, quite simply, without pausing, without a concern, Jesus takes what little they have and gives thanks for it. The word John uses is eucharistein, from which we get Eucharist. Over the next two weeks as we keep working through John 6 we’ll see that connection developed. Here, John doesn’t make much of it. He doesn’t record the words Jesus said, though it’s likely to be a traditional Jewish blessing, something like; ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.’
After giving thanks Jesus starts handing the bread and fish out. And he keeps handing it out, and keeps handing it out! Everyone who’s there, all five thousand plus, get something to eat. Amazingly the food doesn’t run out. The crowd is fed, more than a meager portion, they eat their fill and are satisfied. As much as they wanted, they ate. They’re full to the gills, if you’ll pardon the pun! In fact, there’s so much here that not only to the people eat and eat, there’s even leftovers! Although the food was miraculously provided, it came from nowhere, it cost nothing, Jesus doesn’t let it get treated lightly. He doesn’t let good food go to waste, but rather commands that it be collected up. 200 denarii wouldn’t have given the people more than a mouthful each, but from the fragments of five barley loaves, from nothing, what’s left after five/ten thousand people eat, is an enormous twelve baskets! The twelve baskets might be symbolic of the twelve tribes, a sign of the new kingdom, but it might also be that there’s just one basket for each of the disciples! It’s an amazing sign of God’s compassion and provision for his people. Although the fare is somewhat planer, it’s like the sign of the water turned into wine back in John 2. It’s an image of the feast that awaits God’s people in God’s kingdom.
John gives a clue as to the deeper significance of this sign. Back in verse 4, he makes what appears to be a throwaway line, ‘Now, the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.’ You might like to think about what connections there are between the Passover and the feeding of the five thousand. Then come back over the next two weeks as we look at the rest of chapter 6. In it, Jesus unpacks and interprets these events. He helps the people understand the real significance of the bread. He offers them the bread of heaven, the bread of eternal life, which as it turns out is his flesh. But enough clues, you’ll have to come back next week to find out what he means!
But this morning we’ve seen Jesus’ great compassion for the needs of the people. Jesus is the King who provides bread for his people, who knows the needs of the world, and calls us to join him in meeting them. If they’d had their way the disciples would have turned the crowds away to fend for themselves. But Jesus calls us to not shy away from the needs of those around us. He didn’t expect the disciples to solve the problem. He doesn’t expect us to single-handedly solve world hunger. Instead, he invites us to offer what we have, he promises to take what we offer in faith, and to trust him to use it to achieve great things.
If the disciples could get it wrong, so can we. We too can easily forget that God loves to provide for his people. We can fail to trust in God to provide for our even our most basic needs. The disciples knew they couldn’t provide a meal for the crowd that had gathered. They thought it as impossible, and so they couldn’t trust Jesus to provide for their needs.
We face the opposite problem! I did some quick sums and worked out that providing a Vegemite sandwich for 5000 people isn’t impossible. In fact, Sarah & I could afford to do it a few times over! We could if we wanted to, buy lunch for everyone in Echuca. We live in a world with such abundance, that trusting in God to provide our daily bread is hard to do. Not because it seems impossible for God, but because we’ve been blessed with so much. Sure, we’re quick to cry out for help when we face difficult situations. We’re quick to pray asking for God’s provision for the big things. But one of the challenges this passage lays upon us is to trust in God to provide for the little things. To pray just as earnestly that God would ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’
Let’s pray that he helps us to depend on him in faith…