The Daily Office gospel for today is the familiar description of Jesus feeding the 5000. The only miracle story besides the Resurrection to appear in all four Gospels, it is well-known even to Church School students. My son Jeremy, age five, commented that “Jesus fed 5000 people with only one lunch pail.” Well, not quite. But while this account is thrilling, and has theological connections to manna in the desert and the Eucharist, I don’t believe it is sacrilegious to wonder what it was like to be there that day. Did food suddenly appear? Or is a naturalistic explanation possible, that due to the presence and message of Jesus, people spontaneously shared what they had. We will never know. Some commentators seem to dance around the question of what happened, and given human nature there were no doubt differing reactions to the day. We do know with certainty, from this passage and many other sources and experiences, that God always desires to provide his people with what they require.
There is another factor which seems important to me. The final verse of the passage, John 6:15 (RSV) reads: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself.” Surely the miraculous signs of his authority are important, but they are not the essence of the gospel story. We are in the season which recalls the journey Jesus took to Jerusalem, without guile or overt displays of power, to fulfill the mission his Father had given him. He did not want to be a king. Rather, He carried the astounding message of saving love to the point of overcoming the powers of sin and death. Thanks be to God.