[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning — John 1:1-2].
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place, so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Μετὰ ταῦτα ἀπῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης τῆς Γαλιλαίας τῆς Τιβεριάδος. 2 ἠκολούθει δὲ αὐτῷ ὄχλος πολύς, ὅτι ἐθεώρουν τὰ σημεῖα ἃ ἐποίει ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενούντων. 3 ἀνῆλθεν δὲ εἰς τὸ ὄρος Ἰησοῦς, καὶ ἐκεῖ ἐκάθητο μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ. 4 ἦν δὲ ἐγγὺς τὸ πάσχα, ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν Ἰουδαίων. 5 ἐπάρας οὖν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ θεασάμενος ὅτι πολὺς ὄχλος ἔρχεται πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγει πρὸς Φίλιππον· Πόθεν ἀγοράσωμεν ἄρτους ἵνα φάγωσιν οὗτοι; 6 τοῦτο δὲ ἔλεγεν πειράζων αὐτόν, αὐτὸς γὰρ ᾔδει τί ἔμελλεν ποιεῖν. 7 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ Φίλιππος· Διακοσίων δηναρίων ἄρτοι οὐκ ἀρκοῦσιν αὐτοῖς ἵνα ἕκαστος βραχύ τι λάβῃ. 8 λέγει αὐτῷ εἷς ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, Ἀνδρέας ὁ ἀδελφὸς Σίμωνος Πέτρου· 9 Ἔστιν παιδάριον ὧδε ὃς ἔχει πέντε ἄρτους κριθίνους καὶ δύο ὀψάρια· ἀλλὰ ταῦτα τί ἐστιν εἰς τοσούτους; 10 εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ποιήσατε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἀναπεσεῖν. ἦν δὲ χόρτος πολὺς ἐν τῷ τόπῳ. ἀνέπεσαν οὖν οἱ ἄνδρες τὸν ἀριθμὸν ὡς πεντακισχίλιοι. 11 ἔλαβεν οὖν τοὺς ἄρτους ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ εὐχαριστήσας διέδωκεν τοῖς ἀνακειμένοις, ὁμοίως καὶ ἐκ τῶν ὀψαρίων ὅσον ἤθελον. 12 ὡς δὲ ἐνεπλήσθησαν λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· Συναγάγετε τὰ περισσεύσαντα κλάσματα, ἵνα μή τι ἀπόληται. 13 συνήγαγον οὖν, καὶ ἐγέμισαν δώδεκα κοφίνους κλασμάτων ἐκ τῶν πέντε ἄρτων τῶν κριθίνων ἃ ἐπερίσσευσαν τοῖς βεβρωκόσιν. 14 οἱ οὖν ἄνθρωποι ἰδόντες ὃ ἐποίησεν σημεῖον ἔλεγον ὅτι Οὗτός ἐστιν ἀληθῶς ὁ προφήτης ὁ ἐρχόμενος εἰς τὸν κόσμον.
15 Ἰησοῦς οὖν γνοὺς ὅτι μέλλουσιν ἔρχεσθαι καὶ ἁρπάζειν αὐτὸν ἵνα ποιήσωσιν βασιλέα ἀνεχώρησεν πάλιν εἰς τὸ ὄρος αὐτὸς μόνος.
King Herod’s Bane!
Two blogs ago, we saw similarities between the action in this pericope and that of Moses in the Hebrew Scriptures. In my last blog, we looked at elements of this text that appear to be eucharistic. Today, we note the evolving danger surrounding Jesus.
The reaction of the crowd to this Jesus miracle is to identify him both as a religious and political redeemer — for many at that time, these two roles are synonymous (as in some contemporary Islamic countries). Many apparently thought of him as Messiah who would liberate Israel from its Gentile oppressors.
While the Gospel of John should be read as its own unique account of Jesus, it sometimes helps to give a larger context by comparing it to the Synoptic Gospels. For example, a parallel account of the Feeding of the 5,000 is in Mark chapter 6 which begins with the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist, beheaded by King Herod. Jesus apparently felt the political temperature rising and withdrew from Galilee, Herod’s domain.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote (Antiquities, XVIII.v.2) that King Herod was alarmed by John the Baptist’s popularity and worried he might inspire an uprising. In this political context, we can understand why Jesus didn’t want the crowd to make a fuss about him as a religious/political redeemer. It wasn’t the hour for his arrest yet — that would happen later — and so he escapes the attempt to declare him King.
Also from the Synoptics Matthew and Luke, we recall the temptation of the devil to turn over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would simply worship him. Jesus would be King of kings, but not according to the devil’s timetable and not by worshipping the ancient foe. Part of this temptation could be understood as the lure toward self-aggrandizement out of step with the master plan.
The gist of this is our Savior’s life was constantly in danger. As the story evolves, the danger increases, and the gears of the religious/political machination to kill him grind louder.
It’s the same today. To follow Jesus makes power uncomfortable. And great power finds our devotion to an even greater Power to be insubordination.
Jesus is sometimes portrayed as this wonderful teacher with birds singing and squirrels dancing wherever he goes, when, in fact, a darkness is forming on the horizon, ready to stamp out anything that threatens it.
That darkness has not snuffed out the Light (Jn. 1:5), but it is still around, still dangerous, and hateful of all that is Good.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him. — Martin Luther, 1529.