Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Feeding of the 5000 according to John

The sermon text this past Sunday was taken from Matt 14:13-21 about the feeding of the 5000. I obtained an article from ATLA Serials, but based on John 6:1-15 by Gail R. O'Day, Professor of Preaching and New Testament in Candler School of Theology.(1)

I made a parallel comparison of the feeding account:

(Click on image to enlarge)

The professor's take on the John passage is interesting. I agree with her that comparing with the Synoptic Gospels, John tend to leave a lot of gaps and include several mentions that are not in the Synoptics:

1. The Passover was at hand (v.5)
2. The testing of Philip (v.6)
3. It was a boy who has the 5 loaves and 2 fish (v.9)
4. Jesus gave thanks for the loaves rather than saying a blessing (v.11)
5. The people saw it as a sign that Jesus is the Prophet who is to come into the world (v.14)
6. Jesus withdrew because he perceived that the people are about to come and take him by force to make his king (v.15)

Let me see what we have here:

1. The Passover
John mentions the Passover all across the Gospel (John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28,39; 19:14), unlike the Synoptics where it is only mentioned in the Passion passages, except Luke who related the journey to the Passover feast when Jesus was 12 years old.

In my view, the Gospel of John is not structured chronologically and hence his mention of the Passover, which is not limited to the Passion narrative, is a significant sign pointing to Jesus as the Passover sacrificial Lamb of God. And it is only in the Gospel of John, not the Synoptic Gospels, where John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36).

2. Testing of Philip
I am not too familiar with the disciple theme in the 4 Gospels, except maybe in Mark where the disciples were unaware and blind to who Jesus is until Peter's confession in chapter 8.

What I am beginning to discover in John is that Jesus' focus on the disciples is in the revealing of Himself as the Messiah. This is in line with the general theme of the Gospel of John, the book of signs, i.e. the revealing of the Son of God, who is Jesus.

Right from the first miracle at Cana, the purpose of the miracle was accomplished as John said, "This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him." (John 2:11) We must take note that in this first sign or miracle, no one else other than Mary, the servants and the disciples knew about it. And John stated that Jesus has manifested his glory, and as a result his disciples believed in him.

At the end of John's Gospel, we find the account of doubting Thomas, not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. The disciples have met the risen Jesus except Thomas and when he was informed of it, he did not believe until he saw and touched Jesus' wounds. Jesus' respond to him and implicitly to us is so profound: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (20:29)

3. The Boy with 5 Loaves and 2 Fish
I find it interesting that only John mentions the boy. I believe countless sermons have been preached and Sunday School lessons taughton the generosity of the boy with the bare minimum he had, and lowly kind of food too. O'Day validly commented that the Gospel does not say that the boy offered his food to Jesus. Andrew just pointed out that a boy had them and that Jesus later had the food, which he distributed.

I may be wrong but I think the focus here is still on the disciples. Andrew is inadvertently saying that they have the food but it is not enough for so many people, and the food belongs to another person anyway. It shows the lack of faith in the disciples in who Jesus is.

4. The Giving of Thanks
I am not sure if there is much of a significance between the saying of blessing and the giving of thanks for the loaves and the fish. O'Day referred it to the difference in relation to the Eucharist, but I don't see the point there.

5. A Sign that Jesus is the Prophet
This is the very character of the Gospel of John, with it being called amongst others, the Book of Signs, by some scholars. John has used the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 as a sign to show that he is the Messiah, Christ, Son of God and the Light of the world.

6. The people wanted Jesus as king
Jesus is the promised Messiah but in the form of a suffering servant, the Lamb of God. The people wanted a second David instead, a political king.

What I learnt:

The Gospel of John is really about who Jesus is and who is this Jesus we should believe in, and what we should do about it. John says in 20:30-31, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

And the Feeding of the 5000 passage in John accomplishes that very purpose - the display of who Jesus is and the requirement of our faith in him as the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (note "sin" in singular form).

As Philip got tested, so will we be tested in our faith in who he is. We do fall into the temptation of taking Jesus and wanting Jesus to be other than who he is, the Christ and the Son of God. We do fall into the danger of limiting him to our needs and desires, as if his only job and purpose is to fulfill us in our small and insignificant lives.

He is more than that! Jesus is the Son of God, worthy of praise and worship. As much as we are given the right to a relationship with him, an intimate one no less, we still must treat it with seriousness, and approach him with awe and reverence, respect and honor.

He fed the 5000, now he wants to feed 7 billion.
With the bread of life that only he can give.


(1) Gail R. O'Day, "John 6:1-15", Interpretation April 1, (2003): 196

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