At the spot where the liturgy drops us in the gospel of S. John (the beginning of chapter 6), there is a sudden change also, since the whole of chapter 5 takes place in Jerusalem, whereas at the beginning of chapter 6 we are, without any transition, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. All these changes, in the life of Jesus, as well as in the liturgy today, give us the opportunity to see the difference between the occasional and the true disciples of Jesus. The true disciples do not understand Jesus any better than the occasional ones, but, at least, they try to learn.
The gospel of John is not an easy one, one says. Whereas the gospel of Marc is intended for the catechumens, the gospel of John is for the mature believer. Cardinal Martini says that in the Gospel of John it is impossible to read a few lines or pages and globally understand what is being said, because one does not know why what is being said, is said at that very moment, nor does one understand the precise significance of the passage. Most of the commentaries do not give an answer to the questions that really arise. For example, why does John insist on this idea at that moment ? And so forth.
As far as today's passage is concerned – the miracle of the loaves – it would be preposterous to only comment telling the people not to waste any food and to share it with the poor instead, which is true, of course, but completely irrelevant to this gospel. The question is not : what could one say in order to focus on such current and urgent problems as famine, wars and natural disasters. Then we would be one of those occasional disciples who will never understand the meaning of the sign of the loaves. The question is : what does John, what does the Spirit try to tell us by this sign ? It is a matter of being fair with the Word of God. That does not mean we will understand at once all what is being said. It means that we accept not to understand immediately, but that, without being discouraged, we try to understand through faithfulness. Think of S. Thérèse of Lisieux when she was trying to understand what the Lord was expecting from her while reading 1 Corinthians 13
The miracle of the loaves was not accomplished by Jesus to fill our stomachs, but to signify the life of God he has come to give us : Truly, I say to you, you look for me, not because of the ssigns you have seen, but because you ate bread and were satisfied. Work then, not for perishable food, but for the lasting food which gives eternal life. This is the food that the Son of Man gives to you, for the Father's seal has been put on him. (Jn 6 : 26-27).
Philip, who certainly belonged to the true disciples, those who followed Jesus everywhere, misunderstood what Jesus said to test him :
Where shall we buy bread so that these people may eat ?
He himself knew what he was going to do. But he asked Philip in order to make him aware of the fact that it is impossible to solve this problem, only by generosity and know how. No man will ever be able to satiate another man's hunger.
Only Jesus can efficiently meet man's deepest aspirations. All what we can do, is to obey the order Jesus gives :
The right answer to the question of Jesus to Philip will be given by Peter when he says :
Philip's profile is not the same, though, as the profile of the large crowds who followed Jesus only from time to time, because of the miraculous signs they saw when he healed the sick, these crowds who, afterwards would come and take him by force to make him king, and who will finally say :
Those who understand the sign of Jesus only down to earth because they do not sincerely look for the gifts of God, are not open to the faith and are unable to understand the sign.
Philip belonged to those to whom Jesus said :
He belonged to those who accepted the mystery of the Incarnation and let themselves be led to intimacy with the Lord. Jesus had chosen him to be with him (cf. Mk 3 : 14). That is the main accomplishment of the true disciple :
One could stay that this faithfulness is the numerus clausus to be admitted to understand John's teaching. It is impossible to read a passage, such as to-day's, only to make commonplace comments in the style of : a good deed by a boy scout at some jamboree. The reason is that, according to Cardinal Martini, in the Gospel of John - the gospel of symbols, comparisons and figures - the second part (13-21) enlightens us on the meaning of the first part (1-12). In a homily it is of course possible only to show the way. Finally, if the Gospel of John is difficult to understand, it is not John's fault, it is ours, because we lack faithfulness, and consequently maturity, in our relationship with Jesus.
A second aspect, that is equally important, unseparable of the first, and particularly clear in this Sunday's passage, is that this maturity can only be achieved in the community of believers.
Fr Léon-Dufour presents chapter 6 of S. John in this way :
Detached from the sign of the loaves, the teaching on the bread of life coul be understood only in an individualistic way of dealing with Jesus. But if the act of faith is personal indeed, it is certainly not individual. For Jesus to give bread to the hungry, is not merely a humane task. He orders the people to lay down, according to the Jewish custom when a meal is taken in a family. And this family is presided over by Jesus. Unlike what the Synoptics tell us, John shows us Jesus distributing the bread and the fish. The initiative to gather up the pieces left over of the five barley loaves (not the fish !) comes from Jesus also. Barley was cheaper than wheat. It was also harvested sooner. This is why the liturgical offering of the first fruits always were barley loaves. A hint among others for a correct interpretation of the sign of the loaves.
If the bread given by Jesus is not to be eaten privately but in a community, this community is not to be understood in the way of a majority. Granted : at first there is a large crowd, but from the moment Jesus fled to the hills, these crowds gradually decrease in number. In the end Jesus is alone with the Twelve. Notice that John mentions large crowds only twice in his Gospel : here and at the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. There must be a reason. If faith supposes a community, to believe does not mean to be in tow by a majority. The creed of a certain form of humanism is widely accepted to-day Nonetheless this modern crowd frequently reject or are indifferent to the light of the Gospel. Humanism can be an elegant but sneaky way to get rid of Jesus, when, decidedly, he is getting most unreasonnable. And in the end one worships man (or Satan !) instead of God.