Matthew places the event after Jesus hears of the beheading of John the Baptist and draws away by boat to a remote place. Reference is made to 5 loaves and 2 fish, but no boy, and 12 remaining baskets of food. The count here of 5,000 is only of men and does not include women and children who were there.
Mark also places the event after the beheading of John but says the occasion for withdrawal is to let the Disciples rest after having been sent out by Jesus and reporting back to him. Once again reference is made to 5 loaves and 2 fish (sans boy) and 12 baskets of leftovers. Mark also reports the number at 5,000 men.
Luke discusses the beheading of John in the context of Herod wondering what preacher was drawing all the crowds given that he had John beheaded. But the context for this miracle was a retreat to Bethsadia after the disciples returned from being sent out by Jesus. All the other elements are there, loaves, fish, 5,000 men, 12 baskets left over.
John sets the scene sometime after Jesus’ run in with the Jewish authorities and his declaration that he is the Messiah. He says Jesus went across Lake Genesseret, just like some of the others, but that he sat down on a hillside. The crowds followed him from Judea/Jerusalem because of the signs, such as healing the sick, that he had performed.
Unlike all the other Gospels, individual disciples are named in this account. Jesus spoke first to Philip, as a test, asking him where the people would eat. Phillips response was that it would take 200 denarii (a denarius was a day’s wage for a working man, so more than half a year’s wages) to pay of the food. But Andrew, Peter’s brother, had found a boy with 5 small loaves and 2 small fish, but noted the boy’s lunch was far too little to be of much good.
As in the other accounts, Jesus blesses the food, distribution begins, every one is fed as much as they wanted and there were 12 baskets of scraps left over. Jesus had to flee the scene because he knew that the people intended to revolt and make him King.
Many children’s bible stories have revolved around this boy. How his mother must have packed his lunch with love and care never dreaming to what use Jesus would ultimately put it. About the faith and willingness of the boy in giving over his lunch for Jesus’ use. Such discussions are probably warranted, but not at all, I think, the main reason why John selected this sign for inclusion in his book.
Remember in Jesus radical statement in chapter 5 he claimed the two divine prerogatives: life giver and judge. Specifically in verse 26-27 Jesus says,”For as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because h is the Son of Man.”
Skipping over next Sunday’s sign (Walking on Water) to John 6:25 and following, Jesus enters a dialog with the crowd that followed him and his disciples. He says, in effect you have benefited from the signs I performed and you are looking for me because you want those benefits to continue not because you understood or saw the signs.
He tells them to work for food that is eternal, not food that spoils, and they ask him what that work is. Jesus says that work God requires is to believe in the one he has sent. And then the crowd asks for a sign (man, are we that dumb too?)
And then, through the discussion of God’s provision of manna in the wilderness Jesus proclaims himself to be the bread of life and ties it back to his claims of divine privilege in the previous chapter. Through recording this sign John seeks to show Jesus as both the author and sustainer of life.
But how about us. Jesus said to the crowd who were running after him,” …you have seen me and still you do not believe.” Do we still have that problem today? What would our lives look like if we lived as if we believed Jesus was the one sent from God? If we believed he was the bread of life and all of our needs were met in him?