1 After this, Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. 3 Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. 4 (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) 5 Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” 6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!”
8 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. 9 “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”
10 “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted.12 After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.
14 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” 15 When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
John makes two significant changes in telling the story of Jesus feeding such a large crowd with such a small snack. The first change is adding the dialogue between Jesus and the disciples where Jesus is specifically testing them, trying to coax a trust-response from them. We almost expect one of them to say, “I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but after the wine incident, I know you will do something.” Andrew comes closest to saying this, offering the little bit of food he was able to find (even looking was an act of trust). But then Andrew almost apologizes for the bit of trust he has shown. Still, like the Samaritan woman, Andrew showed a tad bit of trust and that seems to have been enough for Jesus.
The other change is that in John’s account Jesus distributes the food directly to the people (in the other Gospels Jesus hands the food to the disciples who pass it out to the people). The disciples still assist here, but only in organizing the people and in picking up the leftovers. Jesus gives the food directly to the people. John wanted to accentuate the immediacy of Jesus to each follower. We will see this more fully with the promises regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit as another Counselor (Greek: Paraclete) who will continue Jesus’ work of teaching and leading his followers, but this scene serves as a nice foreshadowing of that, downplaying the mediating role of the initial followers and accentuating the immediacy of the cosmic Christ with all followers by his Spirit.
Which brings us back to the point of the first change. There are still hungry people to be fed, still a harvest to be gathered, still innumerable impossible kingdom work to be done. The Spirit still asks us these questions: “How are we going to do this?” And then the Spirit waits for any shred of a trust response from us to latch onto and carry forward the great and miraculous work of God in this world. We don’t bring the power or make the miracles happen. We just organize people and clean up afterward. But, wow, is that enough. The more often we offer our snack, the more often Jesus can feed thousands. What in the world are we waiting for?
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.