Unravel Jesus' pedagogical approach in the feeding of the five thousand, highlighting faith, divine foresight, and the challenges of scarcity.
John 6:1-6 — Jesus’ Test — Aneel Aranha
Hello and welcome to the Bite-Sized Gospel with Aneel Aranha. Today we will reflect on John 6:1-6. These verses are part of a bigger story, but I want to mine it for all that it is worth, so I’m keeping it bite-sized. Please do read verses 1-15 for full context. Now listen.
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Let me introduce you to a word relevant to our reflection today: pedagogical. "Pedagogical" relates to the method and practice of teaching. It refers to the strategies, techniques, and approaches educators use to facilitate learning in students.
The passage we are reflecting upon today, which leads up to the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, offers a fascinating glimpse into Jesus' pedagogical methods. It will help you to put yourself in Philip's shoes for the lesson.
Jesus and his apostles were trying to avoid the crowds because they wanted to be alone, the apostles because they were tired from their ministry, and Jesus because his friend John the Baptist had just been killed, and he wanted some time to himself. We know this from the other gospels (Matthew 14 and Mark 6).
However, they don't succeed. The crowds find them. Jesus asks Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" At first glance, Jesus' question to Philip might seem straightforward. But the text reveals a deeper intent. John says: "He asked this only to test him."
This isn't a whimsical test; it's Jesus' way of teaching an important lesson. Jesus uses this moment to draw out Philip's faith, understanding, and perspective. The latter part of the verses, which says, "Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do," underscores Jesus' divine foreknowledge. He knows the outcome, yet he engages Philip.
Jesus' question to Philip isn't merely about bread but faith. How does Philip perceive the situation? With human limitations or with divine possibilities? Jesus' test pushes Philip (and, by extension, all of us) to confront the challenges of scarcity, not with despair, but with hope in divine providence.
Jesus' tests are never meant to push someone into failure. They are catalysts for growth, opportunities for deepening faith, and moments for revelation. By asking Philip about the bread, Jesus invites him to grow in trust, see beyond the immediate, and anticipate the miraculous.
We will examine what happens in our following reflection, but how would you have responded to Jesus' question? Be honest.
God bless you.