Tuesday, May 10, 2011

John 6:5-9 - Miracle of the Loaves

Scripture John 6:5-9

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii 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 lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?"

Comment - Five Loaves And Two Fish

Some sermons stress the generosity of the little boy sharing his food.

What I find annoying is all the confident talk about how the miracle occurred because the little boy was selflessly willing to share his food.

Not only does that make it sound like God's omnipotence would have been hamstrung if the little boy had said no, and thus giving the little boy's action way too much credit in an ontological sense, it's also giving the little boy undeserved credit in the generosity department.

First of all, who says this was the little boy's dinner?

Five loaves of bread, even if they aren't as big as what you'd buy in a modern supermarket, and two fish, even if they're relatively small, is way too much food for a little boy in that time and culture to have for a single meal.

It was too much for a full grown adult to have for a single meal.

Of course, the boy might have brought food for more than one meal, not knowing how long he'd be at the event, but is there another, better explanation that might be suggested by the text?

The topic that Our Lord has introduced is where can they buy enough food for the crowd, not how they can get people to share or how they can find somebody who has a little bit of food to share. The topic is buying food.

If you look at the Greek, the verb is agorazo, which means things like "attend market," "do business," "buy or sell," etc. It's a specifically commercial, marketplace term, not a more general one like "get" or "find."

The theme of buying is thus carried on in the conversation, with Philip and Andrew pointing out problems for the "Where can we buy them food?" proposal.

First, Philip points out the huge expense of feeding the crowd--presumably because the disciples don't have that much money in the purse.

Andrew then carries the theme forward by pointing out a source where food can be bought--the little boy--but that the source doesn't have enough food for the crowd. (Incidentally, he may have started with more but have already sold the rest of what he had.)

It makes much more sense, given the context and the flow of the conversation, to see the little boy not as a local who happened to pack an extraordinarily large amount of food for him to eat at the day's event but as an enterprising young salesman who brought food to where he knew there would be a lot of people spending the day and he could sell it.

Like the kids who swarm over Israel's holy sites to this day trying to sell trinkets or snacks or bottled water to the pilgrims who have shown up for religious reasons.

Jesus' crowds were bound to attract such kids, and Andrew happened to spot one.

Presumably, then, before the miracle of the feeding the disciples paid the little boy for his five loaves and two fishes.

That's not a dead certainty.

Of course, I'm sure that they didn't steal them from the little boy, and while it's possible that the boy was overcome by religious feeling and simply donated them (or decided not to charge once he saw them being multiplied), given that his interest in bringing them to the site was probably commercial, it's not unreasonable to infer that he was paid for them.

We're not told one way or the other, but given the clear buying and selling theme in the text, preachers ought not be rhapsodizing about the generosity of the little boy or how he was willing to share with others or how without his act of sharing the miracle might not have occurred.

If anything, the miracle might have had to start with another source of food if the little boy hadn't been paid for his wares.

Of course, the above doesn't amount to a proof. It could be that the little boy had brought a surprisingly large amount of food for himself and then, for unknown reasons, mentioned this to Andrew and then generously shared it with Jesus and the disciples.

But this isn't the way the text reads.

And it's just annoying when preachers get so wrapped up in a sickly sweet, Hallmark card spirituality that they go off rhapsodizing about human sharing and generosity in a way that flies in the face of the text.

The point here is that God did a miracle through Jesus, not that a little boy was generous.


Source: http://www.jimmyakin.org/2009/08/five-loaves-and-two-fish.html

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