Today’s Gospel, John 6:1-15, begins by telling us that a “multitude of people” followed Jesus to the other side of the lake because they had seen “the signs which He did on those who were diseased.” Thomas Aquinas observes that the “less perfect and less perceptive” followed Jesus just to see visible miracles. St. Paul states: “Signs were given to unbelievers, not to believers” (1 Cor 14:22).
Others were “better disposed” because they followed Jesus because of His teachings. The best were those who followed Jesus because they had been personally affected by His healing: “Still others followed Him out of devotion and faith, those, namely, whom He had cured of some bodily defect: for our Lord had so healed their body that they were also completely healed in soul.”
The Gospel tells us that Jesus sat down upon the mountain in order to teach. Thomas notes, “He exercised his office of teacher there, sitting with his disciples; for He is the one who teaches every man.”
Thomas points out that when Jesus sits down, He is not simply gazing around but He is focused on His disciples: “He is not distracted by what does not concern Him, but is appropriately concerned with his disciples.”
Jesus hasn’t sat down “out of laziness.” Rather, “He was looking right at them, teaching them carefully and attracting their hearts to himself.” Ultimately, the purpose of the Incarnation was that wanted to draw the hearts of the people to Himself.
Luke describes Jesus as focusing His eyes on His disciples: “Then he lifted his eyes to his disciples” (Lk 6:20). Thomas reflects: “In the mystical sense, our Lord’s eyes are His spiritual gifts; and He lifts His eyes on the elect, i.e., looks at them with compassion, when He mercifully grants these gifts to them: This is what the Psalm asks for: “Look upon me, O Lord, and have mercy on me” (Ps 85:16).” Jesus’ whole purpose was focused on us.
Thomas maintains that everyone who teaches the faith must feed others as Jesus did: “Every teacher is obliged to possess the means of feeding spiritually the people who come to him.” Of course, no one has the resources to feed others from his or her own means. Thomas explains that the teacher “must acquire them elsewhere by his labor, study, and persistent prayer.”
Thomas recalls the words of God found in the prophet Isaiah: “Hurry, you who have no money, and acquire without cost wine and milk. Why do you spend your money for what is not bread” (Is 55:1-2). Thomas considers “bread” to be the teacher’s “eloquence” that does not satisfy compared to the “wisdom” that refreshes: “Wisdom will feed him with the bread of life and understanding” (Si 15:5). Thomas understands Isaiah’s words, “and why do you work for what does not satisfy you?” to mean “learning things that drain you instead of filling you.”
Thomas explains “In the mystical sense, wisdom is a symbol for spiritual refreshment.”
Before Jesus came there were human teachings of philosophers and the teachings of the Mosaic Law. Thomas affirms that even though human reason “can experience and contemplate truth, it is not enough to completely satisfy our desire for wisdom.”
Christ alone can satisfy our desires with “wisdom taught by Christ, the true wisdom.” St. Paul declares: “Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24).
Thomas calls our attention to the fact that the boy had “five loaves,” which Thomas considers might represent the “five books of Moses”: “While the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).
Thomas recognizes that Jesus could have fed the people by creating bread from nothing but He chose to multiply the bread that they had. Thomas takes his action of Jesus as a way of showing the error of the Manicheans as well as the Cathars of his day who believed that material things were evil: “He did this, first, to show that sensible things do not come from the devil, as the Manichean error maintains.”
Thomas reflects upon the fact that before Jesus fed the people, He “gave thanks”: “He did this to show that whatever He had, he had from another, that is, from His Father. This is an example for us to do the same.”
Thomas reminds us that this especially applies to our prayers before eating: “More particularly, He gave thanks to teach us that we should thank God when we begin a meal: ‘Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’” (1 Tim 4:4).
Jesus prays before He works the miracle to demonstrate that He is not acting against God but “according to God’s will.”
Those who ate were completely satisfied, “they ate as much as they wanted.” Thomas comments: “Christ is the only one who feeds an empty soul and fills a hungry soul with good things.” Others may even perform miracles by having grace in a partial way: “Christ, on the other hand, does so with unlimited power, since He does all things superabundantly.”
Christ told the disciples to collect the fragments, which filled twelve basketfuls because “He wanted to impress this miracle more firmly on the hearts of his disciples whom He had carry the leftovers… He did this most of all because He wanted to teach His disciples, who were destined to be the teachers of the entire world.”
The twelve baskets represent the faith that the twelve apostles will bring to the world:
“The twelve baskets signify the twelve apostles and those who imitate them, who, although they are looked down upon in this present life, are nevertheless filled with the riches of spiritual sacraments.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Commentary on the Gospel of John may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications. The Commentary is also available on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/