Lectio notes: John 6: 1-27

Feeding the multitudes
Bernardo Strozzi,
early 17th century.
Today's section of St John's Gospel, 6:1-27, includes the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus' walking on the water to reach a boat the disciples were on.  The key verse, I think, is the last:

"You should not work to earn food which perishes in the using. Work to earn food which affords, continually, eternal life, such food as the Son of Man will give you; God, the Father, has authorized him." (Knox trans)

Lectio

The Greek, Latin and Knox translations of John 6 can be found over at New Advent.  And you can listen to it in Latin here.

Here is the Douay-Rheims translation:

"After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is that of Tiberias. [2] And a great multitude followed him, because they saw the miracles which he did on them that were diseased. [3] Jesus therefore went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. [4] Now the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand. [5] When Jesus therefore had lifted up his eyes, and seen that a very great multitude cometh to him, he said to Philip: Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?[6] And this he said to try him; for he himself knew what he would do. [7] Philip answered him: Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little. [8] One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, saith to him: [9] There is a boy here that hath five barley loaves, and two fishes; but what are these among so many? [10] Then Jesus said: Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. The men therefore sat down, in number about five thousand.[11] And Jesus took the loaves: and when he had given thanks, he distributed to them that were set down. In like manner also of the fishes, as much as they would. [12] And when they were filled, he said to his disciples: Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost. [13] They gathered up therefore, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above to them that had eaten. [14] Now those men, when they had seen what a miracle Jesus had done, said: This is of a truth the prophet, that is to come into the world. [15] Jesus therefore, when he knew that they would come to take him by force, and make him king, fled again into the mountain himself alone. [16] And when evening was come, his disciples went down to the sea. [17] And when they had gone up into a ship, they went over the sea to Capharnaum; and it was now dark, and Jesus was not come unto them. [18] And the sea arose, by reason of a great wind that blew. [19] When they had rowed therefore about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking upon the sea, and drawing nigh to the ship, and they were afraid. [20] But he saith to them: It is I; be not afraid.[21] They were willing therefore to take him into the ship; and presently the ship was at the land to which they were going. [22] The next day, the multitude that stood on the other side of the sea, saw that there was no other ship there but one, and that Jesus had not entered into the ship with his disciples, but that his disciples were gone away alone. [23] But other ships came in from Tiberias; nigh unto the place where they had eaten the bread, the Lord giving thanks. [24] When therefore the multitude saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they took shipping, and came to Capharnaum, seeking for Jesus. [25] And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him: Rabbi, when camest thou hither?[26] Jesus answered them, and said: Amen, amen I say to you, you seek me, not because you have seen miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled. [27] Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you. For him hath God, the Father, sealed.

Study

These verses confront us with a problem that recurs frequently through the Gospel, namely that people were impressed by miracles, but rejected Jesus' actual teaching, as the Catena Aurea makes clear:

"CHRYS. Though favored with such teaching, they were influenced less by it, than by the miracles; a sign of their low state of belief: for Paul says of tongues, that they are for a sign, not to them that believe, I but to them that believe not. They were wiser of whom it is said, that they were astonished at His doctrine. The Evangelist does not say what miracles He wrought, the great object of his book being to give our Lord's discourses. It follows: And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there sat with His disciples. He went up into the mountain, on account of the miracle which was going to be done. That the disciples alone ascended with Him, implies that the people w ho stayed behind were in fault for not following. He went up to the mountain too, as a lesson to us to retire from the tumult and confusion of the world, and leave wisdom in solitude..."

Even the disciples still needed further instruction to understand the importance of what was happening"

"CHRYS. Nor did He only sit with His disciples, but conversed with them familiarly, and gained possession of their minds. Then He looked, and saw a crowd advancing. But why did He ask Philip that question? Because He knew that His disciples, and he especially, needed further teaching. For this Philip it was who said afterwards, Show us the Father, and it suffices us. And if the miracle had been performed at once, without any introduction, the greatness of it would not have been seen. The disciples were made to confess their own inability, that they might see the miracle more clearly; And this He said to prove him...

THEOPHYL. Thus tried by our Lord, Philip was found to be possessed which human notions, as appears from what follows, Philip answered Him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little... 

ALCUIN. His leaving the multitude below, and ascending the heights with His disciples, signifies, that lesser precepts are to be given to beginners, higher to the more matured. His refreshing the people shortly before the Passover signifies our refreshment by the bread of the divine word; and the body and blood, i.e. our spiritual passover, by which we pass over from vice to virtue. And the Lord's eyes are spiritual gifts, which he mercifully bestows on His Elect. He turns His eyes upon them, i.e. has compassionate respect to them...

Jesus retreats to the mountain to pray in order to escape attempts to make him an earthly king.  But in his appearance on the water, he reasserts his divine kingship to the disciples alone:

"CHRYS. And at last He appears quite unexpectedly: They see Jesus walking upon the sea, drawing nigh. He reappears after His retirement, teaching them what it is to be forsaken, and stirring them to greater love; His reappearance manifesting His power. They were disturbed, were afraid, it is said. Our Lord comforts them: But He said to them, It is I, be not afraid. 

BEDE. He does not say, I am Jesus, but only I am. He trusts to their easily recognizing a c voice, which was so familiar to them, or, as is more probable, He shows that He was the same who said to Moses, I am that I am. 

CHRYS. He appeared to them in this way, to show His power; for He immediately calmed the tempest: Then they wished to receive Him into tile ship; and immediately the ship was at the land, whither they went. So great was the calm, He did not even enter the ship, in order to work a greater miracle, and to show his Divinity more clearly. 

THEOPHYL. Observe the three miracles here; the first, His walking on the sea; the second, His stilling the waves; the third, His putting them immediately on shore, which they were some distance off, when our Lord appeared."

The story of the ship on the sea is often given a spiritual interpretation, in relation to the travails of the Church in this world:

AUG. There is a mystical meaning in our Lord's feeding the multitude, and ascending the mountain: for thus was it prophesied of Him, So shall the congregation of the people come about You: for their sake therefore lift up Yourself again: i.e. that the congregation of the people may come about You, lift up Yourself again. But why is it fled; for they could not have detained Him against His wild? This fleeing has a meaning; viz. that His flight is above our comprehension; just as, when you do not understand a thing, you see, It escapes me. He fled alone to the mountain, because He is ascended from above all heavens. But on His ascension aloft a storm came upon the disciples in the ship, i.e. the Church, and it became dark, the light, i.e. Jesus, having gone. As the end of the world draws nigh, error increases, iniquity abounds. Light again is love, according to John, He that hates his brother is in darkness. The waves and storms and winds then that agitate the ship, are the clamors of the evil speaking, and love waxing cold. Nevertheless the wind, and storm, and waves, and darkness were not able to stop, and sink the vessel; For be that endures to the end, the same shall be saved. As the number five has reference to the Law, the books of Moses being five, the number five and twenty, being made up of five pieces, has the same meaning. And this law was imperfect, before the Gospel came. Now the number of perfection is six, so therefore five is multiplied by six, which makes thirty: i.e. the law is fulfilled by the Gospel. To those then who fulfill the law Jesus comes treading on the waves, i.e. trampling under foot all the swellings of the world, all the loftiness of men: and yet such tribulations remain, that even they who believe on Jesus, fear lest they should be lost. 

The high point of these verses, set the scene for the next sections of the Gospel on the Eucharist:

CHRYS. After the rebuke, however, He proceeds to teach them: Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures to everlasting life; meaning, you seek for temporal food, whereas I only fed your bodies, that you might seek the more diligently for that food, which is not temporary, but contains eternal life. 

ALCUIN. Bodily food only supports the flesh of the outward man, and must be taken not once for all, but daily; whereas spiritual food remains for ever, imparting perpetual fullness, and immortality.

AUG. Under the figure of food He alludes to Himself you seek Me, He said, for the sake of something else; seek Me for My own sake. 

CHRYS. But, inasmuch much as some who wish to live in sloth, pervert this precept: Labor not, &c. it is well to notice what Paul says, Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs. And he himself too, when he resided with Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth, worked with his hand. By saying, Labor not for the meat which perishes, our Lord does not mean to tell us to be idle; but to work, and give alms. This is that meat which perishes not; to labor for the meat which perishes, is to be devoted to the interests of this life. Our Lord saw that the multitude had no thought of believing, and only wished to fill their bellies, without working; and this He justly called the meat which perishes.

ALCUIN. When, through the hand of the priest, you receive the Body of Christ, think not of the priest which you see, but of the Priest you do not see. The priest is the dispenser of this food, not the author. The Son of man gives Himself to us, that we may abide in Him, and He in us. Do not conceive that Son of man to be the same as other sons of men: He stands alone in abundance of grace, separate and distinct from all the rest: for that Son of man is the Son of God, as it follows, For Him has God the Father sealed. To seal is to put a mark upon; so the meaning is, Do not despise Me because I am the Son of man, for I am the Son of man in such sort, as that the Father has sealed Me, i.e. given Me something peculiar, to the end that should not be confounded with the human race, but that the human race should be delivered by Me. 


The next set of lectio notes can be found here.

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