When humanity did not know for what it was hungry, Jesus came to the world, becoming the host in a strange land of darkness and providing true food that satisfies every desire.
This “sign” together with the resurrection are the only signs recorded in all the four Gospels.
This pericope begins one of the most important moments in the confession of the Son of God.
"After this’ - after the events of chapter 5.
The ‘Sea of Galilee’, called Kinnereth in the OT (Num 34:11) because of its shape (the word means ‘lyre’), came to be known as Lake (sea) Tiberias from the city which Herod Antipas founded on its west shore about AD 20 and name in honour of the Emperor Tiberius (cf. 21:1).
The crowd follows him because of the signs (cf. 2:23).
The ‘high ground’ - some indicate it as the Golan Heights - the sharply rising terrain east of the lake (cf. Mk 3:13; 6:46; 9:2). Others place it near Capernaum - present day Tabgha - which is in agreement with the old Christian tradition that held Tabgha as the place of the multiplication and the fourth appearance of Jesus. But see John 6:17 - which would suggest the east bank of the lake.
On the other hand, the second multiplication in the Gospel of Mark is considered to take place on the easter bank of the lake (Mk 8:1–10).
Three Passovers are mentioned in the Gospel, for the first (John 2:13) and the third (11:55 ff) the events take place in Jerusalem, for this one Jesus seems to remain in Galilee.
All three occurrences of the Passover point either directly to the death of Jesus (1st and 2nd) or occur in the context of the death itself (3rd).
The Passover did not only celebrated the past deliverance from Egypt, but also it provided a hope for a deliverance from the Roman occupation. This fact explains much of the excitement in 6:15 displayed by the Jews, who want Jesus to become king.
But, the celebration of the Passover feast involved the eating of the lamb and bread. And that fact is going to play a crucial role in this passage.
Since Philip came from the neighbouring town of Bethsaida (1:44), he should be consulted.
See also 4:35 - regarding lifting the eyes.
The narrator offers an explanation regarding Jesus’ question, lest any reader should imagine that Jesus himself did not know what to do. Jesus already had a plan of his own (pluperfect and remoteness).
The word “test” somehow leads us to the great stories of testing of Israel (Abraham in Gen 22; Ex 16:4, for example).
Philip was good at counting. Since a denarius was the daily wage of a worker (Mt 20:2), 200 denarii (cf. Mk 6:37) would be about half-year’s labor - or eight months the NIV. Apparently, not enough.
John is the only Evangelist to mention that the five barley cakes and the two fish belonged to a boy in the company and that Andrew volunteered that information.
The ordinary word for fish is “ichthys”, but here the word used is (ὀψάρια) - that they were small (perhaps salted) fish.
According to Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BC - 50 AD), a Jewish philosopher, barley loaves was a cheap bread suited for the animals and the poor.
Again, not enough.
The ‘grass’ is another eyewitness reminiscence (cf. Mk 6:39). In that place in March and April the grass would not yet be burnt by the heat of the summer.
The different words are used here: “people” which includes women and children (Mt 14:21) and “men - as male”. These 5000 men would have constituted a ready-made guerrilla force to any one willing to become their leader, and 6:15 suggests that a leader is just what they were looking for.
Inclusive of women and children - there could be as much as well over ten thousand.
The solution to the problem begins with a directive from Jesus. Without revealing any concern about the large amount of people or the small amount of resources, Jesus instructs his disciples to have the people be seated - for a meal. Mark adds, the crowd was arranged in groups of fifty and a hundred.
“Gave thanks” - from this Greek verb, we have the term Eucharist. The prayer that Jesus used would be similar to the one that we sing during our offertory - “Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation”.
Here Jesus is distributing, according to the Synoptics - the disciples distributed the food (Mk 6:41). Perhaps, in view of the incoming dialogue John wants to stress that only Jesus can provide the food for the people.
The large crowd for whom 8 months of wages would not be enough to give them a little, received a lavished banquet. When the Lord gives, he gives abundantly.
Here, Jesus, the host offers generous hospitality to the people.
When the Lord supplies his people’s needs, there is abundance but no waste.
Different interpretations are give for the statement that “nothing might be lost”.
One practical about not wasting food. Then spiritual, imitating God in his generous giving (Prov 11:24), or the reference to Jesus’ mission (John 6:39).
They gathered more than the amount of food that was available before the meal began.
12 baskets can refer to the 12 tribe of Israel or to his disciples. Some point out that for their initial doubt or unbelief there is one basket of leftovers to carry. It also prepares them for their future mission to ‘distribute’ the Bread of Life to the world.
After such a sign - the fourth one (cf. 2:11; 4:54; 6:2 in reference to 5:1–18), the people were sure Deut 18:15–19 was fulfilled in front of their eyes. The second Moses, that awaited prophet like Moses arrived.
If this was the second Moses, he would surely do for them what the first Moses had done for their ancestors and deliver them from oppression. This time, the promised land was national independence - liberation from the Romans.
Jesus had already shown the power to banish disease, and now the power to banish hunger. If only he would show his power to secure his people’s liberation, nothing could stand in his way. With him as their leader and king, victory and freedom were as good as won! If he would not take the initiative, they would compel him to be become their leader.
Jesus recognised in their action a recurrence of one of his wilderness temptations. He knew that this was not the way in which he was to fulfil the Father’s will and win deliverance for his people. So, he withdraws from the crowd and goes into solitude.
According to Mark 6:30–44, the twelve had just returned from a mission in Galilee which had quite spectacular results, but which excited the hostile interest of Herod Antipas. Herod had recently got rid of John the Baptist, but now it seemed that he had on his hands a greater menace than John.
Jesus therefore took the twelve to the east side of the lake, out of Herod’s territory, so that they might have a time of quiet after the recent mission. But such excitement had been caused among the Galileans by their mission that they followed them.
Jesus fed their minds with words of life and their bodies with loaves and fish because in his eyes they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). These words do not mean a congregation without a pastor, but an army without a captain (as in 1 Kings 22:17).
Jesus knew how easily they might find the wrong kind of captain (if he would be after their own heart), and be led by him to disaster.
Against the background which Mark supplies, John’s statement that crowd tried to force Jesus to be their king is readily intelligible.
Jesus is the “I Am”, the voice behind the unconsumed burning bush in Exodus 3, the one who walks across the stirring sea, who speaks on behalf of God in the first person. The presence of Jesus silence our fear and exposes our need to receive him in his fulness.
According to Mark 6:45, Jesus “compelled” his disciples to embark and go back across the lake - perhaps he saw that they were being infected with the crowd’s excitement. Mark adds (6:46) that Jesus himself had gone up to the high ground to pray.
The disciples, by themselves, had to make headway against a cold wind that was not only strong but contrary (cf. Mk 6:48). We are told that they are crossing the sea going to Capernaum.
The use of darkness reminds us of John 1:5.
A “stadion” was about 197 meters. Thus, they traveled between about 5 km to 6 km already.
The lake has a surface area of 64 square miles (166 square km). Its maximum depth, measured in the northeast, is 157 feet (48 metres). Extending 13 miles (21 km) from north to south and 7 miles (11 km) from east to west, it is pear-shaped.
But, from the neighbourhood of Bethsaida across the lake to Capernaum would be about 8 km.
Thus, they had already gone a good distance across the sea before coming into contact with Jesus.
Some say that the statement should “by the sea” or “beside the sea” (as in John 21:1). On the other hand, others point that the same phrase “ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσηχς” in Mt 14:26; Mk 6:48–49 means “on the sea”.
“Walking on the sea” is a declaration of Jesus’ divinity, as in Job 9:8 LXX - God alone “treads on the waves of the sea”. What the disciples “saw” was nothing less than the Creator in control of his creation.
That it was the revelation of God is stressed by the fear of the disciples - a constant theme in the divine apportions (cf. Ex 3:6).
Some commentators say that here Jesus’ words (“εγώ εἰμι”) simply means “It is I” (cf. John 9:9). But, if the one who speaks such words walks on a stormy sea, it has to mean something more (cf. 4:26; 6:35; 8:58). Standing where only God can stand, Jesus declares what only he can claim: “I Am”, the one of the unconsumed burning bush (Ex 3) who alone can walk on the waves of the sea (Job 9:8).
The command of Jesus, “do not fear”, can also be rendered as “do not go on being afraid”.
After recognising that it was really Jesus, they were willing to receive him into the boat. John does not tell us whether Jesus actually entered the boat or continued to walk on the water (see Mk 6:51).
Then, we are told that the boat immediately reached the intended destination. Perhaps, we have here a connection to Ps 107:23–32 and so another indication of Jesus’ divinity.
Adding the details from Mark that the event took place “fourth watch of the night” (Mk 6:48) - between 3–6 am - when he came to them, probably then dawn was breaking as they came safely ashore at Capernaum.