It is always worthy to note that every facet of the gospel is worth reflecting upon and this even applies to space and location within the biblical narrative.
Biblical commentators have noted that in the time of Jesus it was the custom that teachers sat when they gave instruction. In the gospel passage for this Sunday (Jn 6:1-5), John tells us that the Lord sat down with his disciples, he was preparing to teach. But there is also something else worthy of note; Jesus went up on the mountain… Jesus neither remains below – focused solely on his immediate work, living a self-centered existence in the midst of others – nor does he remain on high – seeking to escape reality and others in a one-on-one relationship with God. Jesus ascends the mountain to be just a little bit higher; he needs to encounter God, and from there he can see men and women better.
There is an important teaching here for Christians. Only by living in an ongoing and daily encounter with God and by welcoming God’s compassion in our lives is it possible to look upon people with open eyes and to fully understand their needs. In John’s account of this scene, it is Jesus who first raises his eyes and sees the people coming and who first recognizes that they were hungry and needed food. Jesus then prods his disciples, Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?
Time spent daily in prayer does not remain solely within, maturing our own relationship with God (which is wonderful). Daily prayer also directs our gaze outward – opening our eyes to recognize the needs of others and sharing compassion to help feed their hunger. Prayer helps to mature us within and mature us without through our ability to relate honestly and compassionately with others.
It is in this “sharing compassion” that another miracle takes place. We are told that in the face of this overwhelming crowd and their need, the disciples come to realize that there is one boy with five barley loaves and two fish. (The barley loaf of bread was the food of the poor because it was not the best bread nor the most flavorful.) The disciples, informed more by the sad realism and practicality of our world are ready to give up and wash their hands of the crowd by encouraging that they be sent away. Everyone left to forage on his or her own. But our Lord is formed more by God’s word than this sad realism and he has the people recline on the grass. He blesses the bread and with these five poor loaves he feeds the multitude!
In essence we are all like that young boy. We do not have much and what we do have is often quite poor – the little love and compassion we have, the little time we think we can spare, the little attention we can give, the little desire – yet, if we give it to the Lord then he can take it, bless it and use it to feed a multitude. The key to this equation is our putting the “little” we have into the Lord’s hands and not seeking to hold on to it for ourselves. An often unremarked upon part of this gospel scene is that the young boy did hand over his own meager meal. He could have said, “No. I have mine now you get yours.” but he did not. He handed over the little he did have into the Lord’s hands and the multitude was fed.
Living in a daily encounter with God in prayer and giving over the little that we do have – two good lessons for our reflection on this Sunday.