You are here: Home Home 365 Days with the Lord Multiplication of the Loaves

Grace and Space

Multiplication of the Loaves

E-mail Print PDF
Jn 6:1-15

For five Sundays, the Marcan cycle of readings is interrupted by selections from chapter six of John’s Gospel. This chapter contains the Johannine account of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the bread of life discourse, and the disciples’ attestation that Jesus has the words of eternal life.

The first section of chapter six narrates the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. This is the fourth of seven signs in John. While this same basic account appears twice in Mark, twice in Matthew, and once in Luke, it has been reshaped by the Johannine author to reflect his own concerns.

The setting for the story is a mountain. Jesus in the Gospel of John, unlike in the synoptic Gospels, takes the initiative and asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them [the crowd] to eat?” (v 5). The mountain setting is not only reminiscent of many of the great events of Israel’s past, but it specifically points to Moses, who met God in a burning bush on a mountain, who led the Israelites to worship God on a mountain, and who received the law from God on a mountain.

Jesus’ question to Philip echoes Moses’ question to God, “Where can I get meat to give all this people?” (Nm 11:13), after the escape from Egypt and during the wandering in the desert. John pictures Jesus as a new Moses, the new leader of people from slavery to freedom, the provider of food for people.

The time for this narrative is near Passover, the feast celebrating the exodus from Egypt. “There was a great deal of grass in that place” (6:10). In other words, it is springtime.

Besides the paschal lamb needed for the feast, unleavened bread is also used. The author of this Gospel includes no eucharistic institution narrative, as do the Synoptics. However, he does understand Jesus to be the new passover lamb, whose bones are not broken (cf Ex 12:46).

The bread given to the crowd is in the form of barley loaves, according to John. Bread made from barley was the food of the poor. Also, John echoes the multiplication of the barley loaves at the hands of the prophet Elisha (cf 2 Kgs 4:42-44). Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty barley loaves, and there is some left over. Jesus feeds five thousand people with five barley loaves.

Therefore, the crowd, the reader, can conclude, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (v 14). Jesus is the Prophet like Moses (cf Dt 18:15); Jesus is the prophet like Elijah, who has come into the world before the day of the Messiah (cf Mal 3:1, 23).

For John, this story proclaims to the reader that Jesus is the new food for people. He is readily available. He leads people out of the slavery of sin to the freedom of being sons and daughters of God; a new exodus takes place in him. During the time of this exodus (each person’s lifetime) Jesus offers himself as food. He continues to replicate this sign every time the Eucharist is celebrated. He is “the lamb of God,” who takes away the sins of the world.