2Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
In Cunnamulla last week an elderly gentleman with an old dog stopped me in the street. He was sitting on a public bench and invited me to sit beside him. He asked ‘Do you want to see a trick?’
I sat down and he took from his pocket a piece of string tied at both ends. This he threaded through a ring which he took from his finger. Next I had to hold up my thumbs in such a way that he could loop the string over each thumb.
‘Do you think I can get the ring off the string without taking the string off your thumbs?’ he asked. Obligingly, and sincerely, I replied, ‘No way!’ Then, of course, he proceeded to manipulate the string in such a way that suddenly the ring fell into his hand.
‘Very clever,’ I said with astonishment and asked, ‘How did you do that?’
In today’s gospel Jesus’ question (Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?) sets Philip up in much the same way as the one the old man asked me and of both we might say: He himself knew exactly what he was going to do.
But Jesus’ trick and, of course, it was anything but a trick, causes us to ask not ‘how?’ but ‘who?’. Not ‘How did he do that?’ but ‘Who is this man?’
The old man was all about the trick; the miracle of the loaves and fishes is all about Jesus. The miracle arises effortlessly out of the identity of the one who: took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready.
Took – gave thanks – gave out. Did you spot the miracle? I didn’t. No hocus-pocus, no sleight of hand, no smoke and mirrors; the miracle simply happens because Jesus is present; because Jesus is God.
John makes it clear that this miracle is a sign. In other words, it points beyond itself to a higher reality. The people, of course, do not yet understand this. They are still at the level of having had their hunger satisfied in a way that cost them nothing.
When they crossed over in their boats to look for Jesus he told them plainly: I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Indeed, the very hunger of the people for bread is a sign pointing beyond itself to a higher, or should we say, deeper hunger. It is Jesus’ great desire to lead them to understand this hunger as one only God can satisfy. He wants to bring them to understand that their hunger is more for him than for bread.
The impulsive readiness of the people to make Jesus their king suggests they sensed, albeit dimly, that the ‘who’ of this man was worth claiming for themselves and they want him to be their ‘king’. However, Jesus is not about to let them settle for such a limited and one-sided relationship. He is much more than a provider of earthly food – Man does not live on bread alone….
John takes care to tell us ‘it was shortly before the Jewish feast of the Passover.’ This is very important. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes takes place in the shadow of this great Jewish feast which released them from slavery, destroyed their enemies and brought them into freedom.
The miracle of the feeding of the multitude is a sign whose meaning is realized at the Last Supper (the Eucharist) and which will be fully realised only in the heavenly banquet at which Jesus will feed us with the food of angels - his own presence.