John 6:1-21 - Being fed spiritual food without fear
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
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Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 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. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
This is the Gospel reading selection to be read aloud by a priest on the ninth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 12], Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will accompany one of the two Tracks that pair Old Testament readings with Psalms, the first of which being the sins of David bringing about his fall. The other is from Second Kings, which tells of first fruits miraculously feeding a hundred of the prophets of Elisha. Both Psalms fit those two themes generally. Before this reading, a selection from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians will be read, where Paul said, “you may have the power to comprehend.”
I have published a commentary about this reading selection, written back in 2018. It has maps and diagrams and pictures that help explain the logistics involved. I invite all to read that posting, as the insight I offered then is still valid now. The article can be accessed through this link here. At this time, I will only offer a few additional observations.
First of all, the specific numbers presented highlight the numbers “five” [“pente”] and “two” [“dyo”], both of which are multiplied as “five thousand” [“pentakischilioi”] and “Two hundred” [“Diakosiōn”], as a hundred fold and a thousand fold. “Six months’ wages” is actually “Two hundred denarii,” with “Diakosiōn” [“two hundred”] capitalized.
Five is representative of the Torah. It must be realized that the “synagogue” Jesus had created by the “Sea of Tiberias” was specifically chosen because it could seat many more people than could a building made of mud and stone. This means the “crowd” that numbered “five thousand” had come from the four corners of the world because of their belief in the Torah. The primary offering – spiritual food for soul thought, their manna from heaven – came from the scrolls of the “five” books of Moses.
The use of the number “two,” as always, represents a duality. As a duality of the Scriptural readings in Jewish synagogues, the prophets must be seen as those who were divinely possessed by Yahweh, so no longer was one soul maintaining a body of flesh, but the soul was joined with the Spirit of Yahweh, such that “two” was their identity. With “two” reflecting a soul possessed, the “two” fish reflected Jesus and his newly ordained apostles, having just returned from their internships [in pairs], as those who would administer this spiritual feeding that took place. The use of “Two hundred denarii,” where “Two hundred” is capitalized, shows a divine level of meaning placed on that number, denoting the value set on the souls of those waiting to be fed was beyond calculation in material terms.
When Jesus asked the question, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” this must be seen as him seeing a parallel of that setting by the sea and Moses having led the Israelite multitude into the wilderness. Neither place was conducive to marketplaces being nearby. John knew Jesus asked that question as a “test” of Philip’s soul, as a Jew who was raised to know the complaints of the Israelites for food [and water]. This says Philip failed the test of his soul having married Yahweh, because he did not answer as did Ezekiel, saying, “You know, Yahweh will provide.” This makes the question Jesus asked, which John implied he knew what Jesus was thinking [perhaps from his adult soul looking back with all the answers], be a test of how so many will be fed, when the only answer can be, “God will provide.”
When we find Jesus giving the instruction: “Make the people sit down” [NRSV], the Greek text actually says “Poiēsate tous anthrōpous anapesein,” where two aspects here need to be realized. First, the word “Poiēsate” is capitalized, which makes “you make,” or “you accomplish” be raised to a divine level of meaning, where the second person plural form of “make” or “accomplish” becomes an instruction from Yahweh [through Jesus’ mouth] that told the apostles to “shepherd His flock.” The second aspect has to do with the word “anapesein” meaning “recline,” rather than “sit.” This not only plays into earlier information stated, “Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near,” where “reclining” before eating was symbolic of royalty; and, during the Passover Seder meals [there are two each year], the Jews recline as a symbolic act of being royalty as Yahweh’s chosen children. This instruction to “Make those people recline” is then an inference to the apostles symbolically representing the ritual Seder meal that would be served to them. Still, there is another aspect relative to “reclining.”
The third element of Scripture routinely found in a Jewish synagogue is the singing of Psalms. Because the instruction must be seen as given to the apostles to become shepherds of a flock, the preceding verse has John giving the information [that seems benign and unimportant] that says, “Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they [reclined], about five thousand in all.” [NRSV] The element of “grass” then makes this a reenactment of Psalm 23:2, which sings, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” By having stated the grass was beside the Sea of Tiberius, that instruction must be seen as the act of Yahweh as the Good Shepherd leading His flock, just as David had been led.
The element of “giving thanks” is for Yahweh having provided the Torah and the Prophets for the ‘open air’ synagogue he had been led to create, as a place where the Ark of the Covenant was free to rise as a pillar of cloud before the multitude. When John wrote, “he distributed to those reclining,” the third person singular says the soul of Jesus led each of his twelve apostles as they fed the flocks with the spiritual food that was the Torah and the Prophets, all while their imaginations saw those lessons taught to them were the consumption of physical bread and fish. This then leads to the leftovers that were gathered.
The number “twelve” needs to be seen as the number of tribes of Israelites. When Moses told the elders [those leading the twelve tribes] to instruct the people how to gather manna, they were told not to take more than their families could consume in one day. The exception was gathering two days’ worth on Friday, before the rest of the Sabbath. Excess would turn to mush filled with maggots. Thus, more manna fell than was needed, so the twelve baskets of leftovers says there was always more spiritual food than any of the tribes could handle in one day. This gathering of twelve full baskets of leftovers says there will always be more than anyone’s soul can digest in one day, with plenty left over to look forward to. That is a statement about the greatness of Yahweh’s Word.
In verse fifteen there is the idea that implies the crowd was about to “seize [Jesus] to make him king.” This must be read as Jesus knowing the souls of the people had just been fed spiritual food, more than they could eat in one sitting. They ate their fill for one day. That statement says Jesus knew they would all become Christians in due time. Verse fourteen leads to this, literally translating to say, “These therefore people [chosen] , having perceived what he had caused [within their souls] , miracle [fed them spiritually] , were saying because , This one being [soul] truly this prophet who is coming into the world.” That needs to be slowly broken down to understand the deeper meaning.
First, the Greek word “Hoi” begins this, which divinely elevates “These” to mean the group just fed were “Those” of Yahweh, as His chosen people. As pilgrims from out of town, having traveled to Galilee in preparation for the Passover, they were devout Israelites, who were seeking to repent for their wayward ways and become truly the people of God. In the feeding, they realized what had just happened, because their souls had been enlightened. They had been caused to be filled, both physically and spiritually. This was known by them to be a miracle. It was that miracle they realized that caused them to say, “This one" was Jesus foretold. The capitalization of “Houtos” divinely elevated “This one” to be the promised Messiah. The element of “truly this prophet” means the acts performed by the twelve apostles, as instructed by Jesus, was all the inspiration of Yahweh. Therefore, those fed spiritual food knew Jesus was the one that the Israelite peoples had long been awaiting.
By them realizing Jesus had touched them all through the extensions that were his apostles, the crowd was not going to run and grab Jesus and attempt to make him a king. The word that translates as “to seize” [“harpazein”] should be seen as the same term Paul used in his second letter to the true Christians of Corinth, when he wrote about both he and Barnabas being “snatched away,” where twice was used words rooted in “harpazein” [“harpagenta” and “hērpagē”]. In both of those uses, Paul spoke of their souls being taken from their bodies. This must be seen as the root meaning of what Jesus said, as he had no fear at all that his body would be “seized.” He knew that those fed spiritually would become reborn as Jesus, when their souls would be “seized” by his soul and they would be reborn as Jesus resurrected, with that soul the king of their bodies of flesh.
In the commentary I posted in 2018, I made it clear that this writing states John was the “boy” who was holding the basket that contained the lunch for Jesus and the twelve [plus others of family there]. I want to add now that proof to this is found when verse nine begins by stating, “Being a little boy here” [“Estin paidarion hōde”]. That segment of words identifies John, as he was the author. The capitalization of “Estin” becomes a divinely elevated statement of “Being,” with that “Being” then identified as “a little boy.” The divinely led “Being” was John, who then was “a little boy,” not yet an adult. The aspect that “here” means “in that setting,” for “a little boy” to be “here,” at the top of a mountain where Jesus met with his “disciples,” says John would only be there if he was related to Jesus. For him to be “a little boy” who knew what Jesus was thinking, Jesus was his father and Jesus had explained afterwards why he did what he did, teaching his son as a father would.
As for the element of Jesus walking on the water, I refer to what I wrote in 2018. I firmly believe John writing about this is the proof that John was not on the boat, being the son of Jesus, as both walked back to Capernaum in the dark, most likely using a lantern that illuminated Jesus. Because of the lateness stated by other Gospel writers, the possibility arises that it could have been a dream that John realized spiritually, later in life. The importance that needs to be grasped from the fear experienced by the apostles, when the seas got rough, is it shows a difference between them having already been given the opportunity to see what “seizing Jesus and making him king” over their soul-bodies and those fed spiritual food by them, as Jesus within their souls. The paradox then acts as a prophecy of the fear the apostles would have after Jesus had physically left them, when they hid from everyone, rather than delight that their time had finally come.
As the Gospel selection to be read aloud on the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry for Yahweh should be well underway, the lesson of this reading says to look forward to when one’s soul will be married to Yahweh, do not fear the turbulence that will come when that day comes. The miracles of feeding five thousand and Jesus walking above the rough waters must be seen as totally attainable by oneself, not something only Jesus could do. To think no more miracles can happen, because Jesus is sitting on a throne in heaven, next to Yahweh, is to have a defeatist attitude that fears letting Yahweh possess one’s soul and bring about the resurrection of His Son’s soul within another’s.