1. Afterwards, Jesus went across the sea of Galilee, which is called (the sea) of Tiberias.2. And a great multitude followed him, because they had seen his miracles, which he performed on those who were diseased.3. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there sat down with his disciples.4. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was at hand.5. Jesus therefore, lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude came to him, saith to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that those men may eat? 6. (Now he said this, trying him; for he himself knew what he would do.) 7. Philip answered him, Two hundred denarii of bread is not sufficient for them, that each of them may take a little.8. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith to him, 9. There is here a boy, who hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes; but what are these among so many? 10. And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. (Now there was much grass in that place.) The men therefore sat down, in number about five thousand.11. And Jesus took the loaves, and, having given thanks, distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those who had sat down, and likewise of the fishes, as much as they wished.12. And after they were satisfied, he said to his disciples, Gather the fragments which are left, that nothing may be lost.13. They therefore gathered, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five loaves which were left by those who had eaten.
1. Afterwards, Jesus went. Although John was accustomed to collect those actions and sayings of Christ, which the other three Evangelists had omitted, yet in this passage, contrary to his custom, he repeats the history of a miracle which they had related. But he does so for the express purpose of passing from them to Christ's sermon, which was delivered next day at Capernaum, because the two things were connected; and therefore this narrative, though the other three Evangelists have it in common with him, has this peculiarity, that it is directed to another object, as we shall see. The other Evangelists (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10) state that this happened shortly after the death of John the Baptist, by which circumstance of time they point out the cause of Christ's departure; for when tyrants have once imbrued their hands in the blood of the godly, they kindle into greater cruelty, in the same manner as intemperate drinking aggravates the thirst of drunkards. Christ therefore intended to abate the rage of Herod by his absence. He uses the term, Sea of Galilee, as meaning the lake of Gennesareth. When he adds that it was called the Sea of Tiberias, he explains more fully the place to which Christ withdrew; for the whole lake did not bear that name, but only that part of it which lay contiguous to the bank on which Tiberias was situated.
2. And a great multitude followed him. So great ardor in following Christ arose from this, that, having beheld his power in miracles, they were convinced that he was some great prophet, and that he had been sent by God. But the Evangelist here omits what the other three relate, that Christ employed a part of the day in teaching and in healing the sick, and that, when the sun was setting, his disciples requested him to send away the multitudes, (Matthew 14:13, 14; Mark 6:34, 35; Luke 9:11, 12;) for he reckoned it enough to give the substance of it in a few words, that he might take this opportunity of leading us on to the remaining statements which immediately follow.
Here we see, in the first place, how eager was the desire of the people to hear Christ, since all of them, forgetting themselves, take no concern about spending the night in a desert place. So much the less excusable is our indifference, or rather our sloth, when we are so far from preferring the heavenly doctrine to the gnawings of hunger, that the slightest interruptions immediately lead us away from meditation on the heavenly life. Very rarely does it happen that Christ finds us free and disengaged from the entanglements of the world. So far is every one of us from being ready to follow him to a desert mountain, that scarcely one in ten can endure to receive him, when he presents himself at home in the midst of comforts. And though this disease prevails nearly throughout the whole world, yet it is certain that no man will be fit for the kingdom of God until, laying aside such delicacy, he learn to desire the food of the soul so earnestly that his belly shall not hinder him.
But as the flesh solicits us to attend to its conveniences, we ought likewise to observe that Christ, of his own accord, takes care of those who neglect themselves in order to follow him. For he does not wait till they are famished, and cry out that they are perishing of hunger, and have nothing to eat, but he provides food for them before they have asked it. We shall perhaps be told that this does not always happen, for we often see that godly persons, though they have been entirely devoted to the kingdom of God, are exhausted and almost fainting with hunger. I reply, though Christ is pleased to try our faith and patience in this manner, yet from heaven he beholds our wants, and is careful to relieve them, as far as is necessary for our welfare; and when assistance is not immediately granted, it is done for the best reason, though that reason is concealed from us.
3. Jesus therefore went up into a mountain. Christ unquestionably sought a place of retirement till the feast of the Passover; and therefore it is said that he sat down on a mountain with his disciples. Such was undoubtedly the purpose which he formed as man; but the purpose of God was different, which he willingly obeyed. Although, therefore, he avoided the sight of men, yet he permits himself to be led by the hand of God as into a crowded theater; for there was a larger assembly of men in a desert mountain than in any populous city, and greater celebrity arose from the miracle than if it had happened in the open market-place of Tiberias We are therefore taught by this example to form our plans in conformity to the course of events, but in such a manner that, if the result be different from what we expected, we may not be displeased that God is above us, and regulates everything according to his pleasure.
5. He saith to Philip. What we here read as having been said to Philip alone, the other Evangelists tell us, was said to all. But there is no inconsistency in this; for it is probable that Philip spoke according to the opinion entertained by all, and, therefore, Christ replies to him in particular; just as John, immediately afterwards, introduces Andrew as speaking, where the other Evangelists attribute the discourse to all alike. Perceiving that they have no conception of an extraordinary remedy, he then arouses their minds, which may be said to be asleep, so that they may, at least, have their eyes open to behold what shall be immediately exhibited to them. The design of all that is alleged by the disciples is, to persuade Christ not to detain the people; and, perhaps, in this respect they consult their private advantage, that a part of the inconvenience may not fall upon themselves. Accordingly, Christ disregards their objections, and proceeds in his design.
7. Two hundred denarii. As the denarius, according to the computation of Budaeus, is equal to four times the value of a carolus and two deniers of Tours, this sum amounts to thirty-five francs, or thereby. If you divide this sum among five thousand men, each hundred of them will have less than seventeenpence sterling If we now add about a thousand of women and children, it will be found that Philip allots to each person about the sixth part of an English penny, to buy a little bread But, as usually happens in a great crowd, he probably thought that there was a greater number of people present; and as the disciples were poor and ill supplied with money, Andrew intended to alarm Christ by the greatness of the sum, meaning that they were not wealthy enough to entertain so many people.
10. Make the men sit down. That the disciples were not sooner prepared to cherish the hope which their Master held out, and did not remember to ascribe to his power all that was proper, was a degree of stupidity worthy of blame; but no small praise is due to their cheerful obedience in now complying with his injunction, though they know not what is his intention, or what advantage they will derive from what they are doing. The same readiness to obey is manifested by the people; for, while they are uncertain about the result, they all sit down as soon as a single word of command has been pronounced. And this is the trial of true faith, when God commands men to walk, as it were, in darkness. For this purpose let us learn not to be wise in ourselves, but, amidst great confusion, still to hope for a prosperous issue, when we follow the guidance of God, who never disappoints his own people.
11. After having given thanks. Christ has oftener than once instructed us by his example that, whenever we take food, we ought to begin with prayer. For those things which God has appointed for our use, being evidences of his infinite goodness and fatherly love towards us, call on us to offer praise to Him; and thanksgiving, as Paul informs us, is a kind of solemn sanctification, by means of which the use of them begins to be pure to us, (1 Timothy 4:4.) Hence it follows, that they who swallow them down without thinking of God, are guilty of sacrilege, and of profaning the gifts of God. And this instruction is the more worthy of attention, because we daily see a great part of the world feeding themselves like brute beasts. When Christ determined that the bread given to the disciples should grow among their hands, we are taught by it that God blesses our labor when we are serviceable to each other.
Let us now sum up the meaning of the whole miracle. It has this in common with the other miracles, that Christ displayed in it his Divine power in union with beneficence, It is also a confirmation to us of that statement by which he exhorts us to seek the kingdom of God, promising that all other things shall be added to us, (Matthew 6:33.) For if he took care of those who were led to him only by a sudden impulse, how would he desert us, if we seek him with a firm and steady purpose? True, indeed, he will sometimes allow his own people, as I have said, to suffer hunger; but he will never deprive them of his aid; and, in the meantime, he has very good reasons for not assisting us till matters come to an extremity.
Besides, Christ plainly showed that he not only bestows spiritual life on the world, but that his Father commanded him also to nourish the body. For abundance of all blessings is committed to his hand, that, as a channel, he may convey them to us; though I speak incorrectly by calling him a channel, for he is rather the living fountain flowing from the eternal Father. Accordingly, Paul prays that all blessings may come to us from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, in common, (1 Corinthians 1:3;) and, in another passage, he shows that
in all things we ought to give thanks to God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 5:20.)
And not only does this office belong to his eternal Divinity, but even in his human nature, and so far as he has taken upon him our flesh, the Father has appointed him to be the dispenser, that by his hands he may feed us. Now, though we do not every day see miracles before our eyes, yet not less bountifully does God display his power in feeding us. And indeed we do not read that, when he wished to give a supper to his people, he used any new means; and, therefore, it would be an inconsiderate prayer, if any one were to ask that meat and drink might be given to him by some unusual method.
Again, Christ did not provide great delicacies for the people, but they who saw his amazing power displayed in that supper, were obliged to rest satisfied with barley-bread and fish without sauce. And though he does not now satisfy five thousand men with five loaves, still he does not cease to feed the whole world in a wonderful manner. It sounds to us, no doubt, like a paradox, that
man liveth not by bread alone, but by the word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God, (Deuteronomy 8:3.)
For we are so strongly attached to outward means, that nothing is more difficult than to depend on the providence of God. Hence it arises that we tremble so much, as soon as we have not bread at hand. And if we consider every thing aright, we shall be compelled to discern the blessing of God in all the creatures which serve for our bodily support; but use and frequency lead us to undervalue the miracles of nature. And yet, in this respect, it is not so much our stupidity as our malignity that hinders us; for where is the man to be found who does not choose to wander astray in his mind, and to encompass heaven and earth a hundred times, rather than look at God who presents himself to his view?
13. And filled twelve baskets. When four thousand men were fed by seven loaves, Matthew relates that the number of baskets filled with fragments was exactly the same with the number of the loaves, (Matthew 15:37.) Since, therefore, a smaller quantity is sufficient for a greater number of men, and since the quantity left is nearly double, hence we see more clearly of what value is that blessing of God, against the sight of which we deliberately shut our eyes. We ought also to observe, in passing, that though Christ commands them to fill the baskets for illustrating the miracle, yet he likewise exhorts his disciples to frugality, when he says, Gather the fragments which are left, that nothing may be lost; for the increase of the bounty of God ought not to be an excitement to luxury. Let those, therefore, who have abundance, remember that they will one day render an account of their immoderate wealth, if they do not carefully and faithfully apply their superfluity to purposes which are good, and of which God approves.