Jesus notices that the crowd gathered before him had nothing to eat. He teases Phillip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” though this wasn’t a serious question, he said it to test Phillip. Jesus had a different kind of food in mind. What did the crowd hunger for? I believe they, as all humans do to some degree, hungered for spiritual nourishment. And Jesus was able to nourish this huge crowd with very little tangible offering. Indeed, everyone received as much as they wanted.
When we share spiritual nourishment, just as we are doing here, the six of us could feed multitudes. Indeed, what does it matter if it were 5,000 or 10,000? Even if we were just two people, with only two fish (spiritual offerings), we could still share this sustenance with a multitude of people. Without spiritual nourishment, we would all be hungry. Genuine, heartfelt sharing, even if just a small amount, is nourishing. That we do this for one another, and that we offer it to others, is a spiritual gift, and it matters. In this kind of sharing, nothing is wasted.
John goes on from this passage to the “I am” statements attributed to Jesus: (35) “I am the bread of life,” and “ the bread of God …that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” As God fed the Israelites with manna from heaven as they journeyed through the wilderness, Jesus provides bread in the wilderness. The manna, however, did not give life – but what Jesus gave is the “true bread” or “living bread.” It could be said that Jesus was/is this bread, and that people consume him, as in take him in to be spiritually nourished. What Jesus provides the multitudes is this living “bread,” as in his living word, providing real and true nourishment.
Jesus will later say, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” “And whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (35)
How beautiful this is – that Jesus’ essential truth is satiating to the multitudes who hunger and thirst for God. Eating and drinking of him this way is to become one with him. What is also so lasting about this rich story is that is as true for the time it was written as it is for us today. We are these masses who are nourished, we are also participating in the sharing of this spiritual nourishment.