Summary: John’s account of the feeding of the multitude helps us to see what we need to face the overwhelming.
Facing the Overwhelming
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"
He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"
Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted."
So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
Have you ever faced a situation that was overwhelming? Or a problem so difficult or complex that resolving it seemed impossible?
Most of us have.
And it doesn’t matter how old or young we are – we all face overwhelming and stressful situations.
It could be the first day of school
or Monday morning’s algebra class
or trying to get a good score on the SAT and to get into college.
Or it might be the stack of bills that grow and grow,
or waiting to hear from the doctor’s office to learn about the test results,
or the frustration about the job -- or the fear that the job will be lost,
Our lives are full of experiences that seem overwhelming and beyond our capacity to handle.
In our New Testament lesson we have an extreme example of such an experience.
Jesus and his disciples have tried to escape from the crowds. They do that from time to time so that Jesus can both rest and give special training to his 12 special disciples.
But the plan doesn’t work.
The crowds follow. Five thousand people come and invade the solitude of Christ and his apostles. Immediately Jesus begins to think in very practical terms about feeding the crowd.
Talk about overwhelming situations – how do you feed 5,000 people?
The way Jesus handled it was to perform a miracle.
You may remember that Jason and I have pointed out during our preaching on John’s Gospel that there are 7 signs, or miracles that Jesus performs in this Gospel. Other Gospels mention quite a few miracles, but John mentions only 7.
The first was turning the water into wine at a wedding feast.
Then in chapter 4 there was the healing of a nobleman’s son.
In chapter 5 there was the healing of a paralytic.
Now in chapter 6, there is this, the fourth of seven signs – the feeding of the multitude.
This was not the first time such a miracle had been performed. Our Old Testament lesson tells us that this is what Elisha did with 100 people.
Nor was this the last time this kind of miracle took place. Later on in his ministry, Jesus fed another multitude with a small amount of food – that time feeding a mere 4,000 people. (Matthew 14 tells of the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Matthew 15 and the feeding of the 4,000. Matthew 16:9 and 10 mentions the feeding of both groups).
As John tells about this particular miracle, he seems to be more interested in how different people became involved in the miracle than in the miracle itself.
The first person John’s Gospel lets us meet is Philip.
We know only a little about Philip.
He was a Jew, but he had a Greek name, so his family was probably like a typical South Florida family – very multicultural.
He was one of the followers of John the Baptist.
And he seems to have been a very practical person. Feet firmly planted on the ground!
When Jesus goes up to Philip and asks “where can we buy bread for all these people to eat,” Philip responds by saying it would take more than 200 silver coins.
For some that would be a month’s salary, for others it would be six month’s salary – however you look at it – it is a lot of money.