8 July 2017

John 6:1-15

"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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, 'Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.' So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets." (vv. 11-13)

Psalm: Psalm 33


This sign, or miracle, is found in all four Gospels but for John's Gospel it seems to perform a particularly critical function. The fourth Gospel does not include an account of the Last Supper, but this story perhaps takes its place.

The location of the story at a point when the Passover festival was approaching should perhaps be our first clue here: the Passover meal is, of course, the occasion of Jesus' last supper with his disciples. Passover commemorates the exodus of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12), so forms a very powerful backdrop to Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross, which frees God's people from slavery to sin.

The question, in verse 5, is our second clue. It mirrors the question asked by Moses of God, in the wilderness - he cries out, "Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!'" (Numbers 11:13). Like Moses, Jesus is leading people to freedom, and assumes a responsibility for their wellbeing. But unlike Moses, in John's Gospel Jesus is fully in control of this situation, as he is throughout his ministry, and is a model of faith, not of desperation.

Then comes the little boy, with his bread (verse 9). Barley loaves were a staple part of the poor family's diet - basic but filling. But the bread has much greater significance even than nourishment for the body, and here is our third clue. In the Last Supper narrative, Jesus breaks bread and describes it in terms of his broken body and the very real sacrifice which he will make for his followers. He doesn't do that in this story, but read on, and we find later in the chapter that he describes himself as bread - the bread of life (verse 35). Again, the parallel and contrast are drawn with Moses and the provision of food in the wilderness (Exodus 16), again portraying Jesus' mission as a second and more profound Exodus.

To Ponder

  • The remains of the feast are collected up into twelve baskets, "so that nothing may be lost". God gives to us abundantly. What gifts have you received? How careful are you not to waste those gifts (material or otherwise)? How might you ensure that all can be fed through God's generosity to us?
  • Look through the Gospels, or think about the Gospel stories you know, to find the places where bread is mentioned. Think about its significance - it is a means of survival, it represents God's goodness, it stands for life and salvation. And what else? Next time you take bread into your hands, take a moment to reflect on this and to give thanks for it.

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.