John vi. Ver. 5. "And as He lifted up His eyes, He
beheld a great company."
This showeth that He sat not at any time idly with the disciples, but
perhaps carefully conversing with them, and making them attend and turn
towards Him, a thing which peculiarly marks His tender care, and the humility
and condescension of His demeanor towards them. For they sat with Him,
perhaps looking at one another; then having lifted up His eyes, He beheld
the multitudes coming unto Him. Now the other Evangelists say, that the
disciples came and asked and besought Him that He would not send them away
fasting, while St. John saith, that the question was put to Philip by Christ.
Both occurrences seem to me to be truly reported, but not to have taken
place at the same time, the former account being prior to the other, so
that the two are entirely different.
Wherefore then doth He ask "Philip"? He knew which of His disciples
needed most instruction; for this is he who afterwards said, "Show us the
Father, and it sufficeth us" (c. xiv. 8), and on this account Jesus was
beforehand bringing him into a proper state. For had the miracle simply
been done, the marvel would not have seemed so great, but now He beforehand
constraineth him to confess the existing want, that knowing the state of
matters he might be the more exactly acquainted with the magnitude of the
miracle about to take place. Wherefore He saith,
"Whence shall we have so many loaves. that these may eat?"
So in the Old [Testament] He spake to Moses, for He wrought not the
sign until He had asked him, "What is that in thy hand?" Because things
coming to pass unexpectedly and all at once, are wont to throw us into
forgetfulness of things previous, therefore He first involved him in a
confession of present circumstances, that when the astonishment should
have come upon him, he might be unable afterwards to drive away the remembrance
of what he had confessed, and thus might learn by comparison the greatness
of the miracle, which in fact takes place in this instance; for Philip
being asked, replied,
Ver. 6, 7. "Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for
them, that every one of them may take a little. And this He said to prove
him: for He Himself knew what He would do."
[2.] What meaneth, "to prove him"? Did not He know what would be said
by him? We cannot assert that. What then is the meaning of the expression?
We may discover it from the Old [Testament]. For there too it is said,
"And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and
said unto him, Take thy beloved son whom thou lovest" (Gen. xxii. 1, Gen.
xxii. 2); yet it doth not appear in that place either, that when He saith
this He waited to see the end of the trial, whether Abraham would obey
or not, (how could He, who knoweth all things before they come into existence?
but the words in both cases are spoken after the manner of men. For as
when (the Psalmist ) saith that He "searcheth the hearts of men," he meaneth
not a search of ignorance but of exact knowledge, just so when the Evangelist
saith that He proved (Philip), he meaneth only that He knew exactly. And
perhaps one might say another thing, that as He once made Abraham more
approved, so also did He this man, bringing, him by this question to an
exact knowledge of the miracle. The Evangelist therefore, that thou mayest
not stop at the feebleness of the expression, and so form an improper opinion
of what was said, addeth, "He Himself knew what He would do."
Moreover we must observe this, that when there is any wrong suspicion,
the writer straightway very carefully corrects it. As then in this place
that the hearers might not form any such suspicion, he adds the corrective,
saying, "For He Himself knew what He would do": so also in that other place,
when He saith, that "the Jews persecuted Him, because He not only had broken
the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal
with God," had there not been the assertion of Christ Himself confirmed
by His works, he would there also have subjoined this correction. For if
even in words which Christ speaketh the Evangelist is careful that none
should have suspicions, much more in cases where others were speaking of
Him would he have looked closely, had he perceived that an improper opinion
prevailed concerning Him. But he did not so, for he knew that this was
His meaning, and immovable decree. Therefore after saying, "making Himself
equal with God," he used not any such correction; for the matter spoken
of was not an erroneous fancy of theirs, but His own assertion ratified
by His works. Philip then having been questioned,
Ver. 8, 9. "Andrew, Simon's brother, said, There is a lad here, which
hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among
Andrew is higher minded than Philip, yet had not he attained to everything.
Yet I do not think that he spake without an object, but as having heard
of the miracles of the Prophets, and how Elisha wrought a sign with the
loaves (2 Kings iv. 43); on this account he mounted to a certain height,
but could not attain to the very top.
Let us learn then, we who give ourselves to luxury, what was the fare
of those great and admirable men; and in quality and quantity let us behold
and imitate the thriftiness of their table.
What follows also expresses great weakness. For after saying, "hath
five barley loaves," he addeth, "but what are they among so many?" He supposed
that the Worker of the miracle would make less out of less, and more out
of more. But this was not the case, for it was alike easy to Him to cause
bread to spring forth from more and from less, since He needed no subject-matter.
But in order that the creation might not seem foreign to His Wisdom, as
afterwards slanderers and those affected with the disease of Marcion said,
He used the creation itself as a groundwork for His marvels.
When both the disciples had owned themselves at a loss, then He wrought
the miracle; If or thus they profited the more, having first confessed
the difficulty of the matter, that when it should come to pass, they might
understand the power of God. And because a miracle was about to be wrought,
which had also been performed by the Prophets, although not in an equal
degree, and because He would do it after first giving thanks, lest they
should fall into any suspicion of weakness on His part, observe how by
the very manner of His working He entirely raiseth their thoughts of it
and showeth them the difference (between Himself and others). For when
the loaves had not yet appeared, that thou mayest learn, that things that
are not are to Him as though they were, (as Paul saith, "who calleth the
things that be not as though they were"-Rom. iv. 17,) He commanded them
as though the table were prepared and ready, straightway to sit down, rousing
by this the minds of His disciples. And because they had profited by the
questioning, they immediately obeyed, and were not confounded, nor said,
"How is this, why dost Thou bid us sit down, when there is nothing before
us?" The same men, who at first disbelieved so much as to say, "Whence
shall we buy bread?" began so far to believe even before they saw the miracle,
that they readily made the multitudes to sit down.
[3.] But why when He was about to restore the paralytic did He not pray,
nor when He was raising the dead, or bridling the sea, while He cloth so
here over the loaves? It was to show that when we begin our meals, we ought
to give thanks unto God. Moreover, He doth it especially in a lesser matter,
that thou mayest learn that He doth it not as having any need; for were
this the case, much more would He have done so in greater things; but when
He did them by His own authority, it is clear that it was through condescension
that He acted as He did in the case of the lesser. Besides, a great multitude
was present, and it was necessary that they should be persuaded that He
had come according to the will of God. Wherefore, when He doth miracles
in the absence of witnesses, He exhibiteth nothing of the kind; but when
He doth them in the presence of many, in order to persuade them that He
is no enemy of God, no adversary of Him who hath begotten Him, He removeth
the suspicion by thanksgiving.
"And He gave to them that were set down, and they were filled."
Seest thou how great is the interval between the servants and the Master?
They having grace by measure, wrought their miracles accordingly, but God,
who acteth with free power, did all most abundantly.
Ver. 12. "And He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments
which remain; -and they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets."
This was not a superfluous show, but in order that the matter might
not be deemed a mere illusion; and for this reason He createth from matter
already subsisting. "But why gave He not the bread to the multitudes to
bear, but (only) to His disciples?" Because He was most desirous to instruct
these who were to be the teachers of the world. The multitude would not
as yet reap any great fruit from the miracles, (at least they straightway
forgot this one and asked for another,) while these would gain no common
profit. And what took place was moreover no ordinary condemnation of Judas,
who bore a basket. And that these things were done for their instruction
is plain from what is said afterwards, when He reminded them, saying, "Do
ye not yet understand-how many baskets ye took up?" (Matt. xvi. 9.) And
for the same reason it was that the baskets of fragments were equal in
number to the disciples; afterwards, when they were instructed, they took
not up so many, but only "seven baskets." (Matt. xv. 37.) And I marvel
not only at the quantity of loaves created, but besides the quantity, at
the exactness of the surplus, that He caused the superabundance to be neither
more nor less than just so much as He willed, fore-seeing how much they
would consume; a thing which marked unspeakable power. The fragments then
confirmed the matter, showing both these points; that what had taken place
was no illusion, and that these were from the loaves by which the people
had been fed. As to the fishes, they at this time were produced from those
already subsisting, but at a later period, after the Resurrection, they
were not made from subsisting matter. "Wherefore?" That thou mayest understand
that even now He employed matter, not from necessity, nor as needing any
base (to work upon), but to stop the mouths of heretics?
"And the multitudes said, that this is of a truth The Prophet."
Oh, excess of gluttony! He had done ten thousand things more admirable
than this, but nowhere did they make this confession, save when they had
been filled. Yet hence it is evident that they expected some remarkable
prophet; for those others had said (to John), "Art thou that Prophet?"
while these say, "This is that Prophet."
Ver. 15. "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and
take Him by force to make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain."
Wonderful! How great is the tyranny of gluttony, how great the fickleness
of men's minds! No longer do they vindicate the Law, no longer do they
care for the violation of the Sabbath, no longer are they zealous for God;
all such considerations are thrown aside, when their bellies have been
filled; He was a prophet in their eyes, and they were about to choose Him
for a king. But Christ fleeth. "Wherefore?" To teach us to despise worldly
dignities, and to show us that He needed nothing on earth. For He who chose
all things mean, both mother and house and city and nurture and attire
would not afterwards be made illustrious by things on earth. The things
which (He had) from heaven were glorious and great, angels, a star, His
Father loudly speaking, the Spirit testifying, and Prophets proclaiming
Him from afar; those on earth were all mean, that thus His power might
the more appear. He came also to teach us to despise the things of the
world, and not be amazed or astonished by the splendors of this life, but
to laugh them all to scorn, and to desire those which are to come. For
he who admires things which are here, will not admire those in the heavens.
Wherefore also He saith to Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (c.
xviii. 36), that He may not afterwards appear to have employed mere human
terror or dominion for the purpose of persuasion. Why then saith the Prophet,
"Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass"? (Zech.
ix. 9.) He spake of that Kingdom which is in the heavens, but not of this
on earth; and on this account Christ saith, "I receive not honor from men."
(c. v. 41.)
Learn we then, beloved, to despise and not to desire the honor which
is from meal for we have been honored with the greatest of honors, compared
with which that other is verily insult, ridicule, and mockery. And as the
riches of this world compared with the riches of that are poverty, as this
life apart from that is deadness, (for"let the dead bury their dead"-Matt.
viii. 28,) so this honor compared with that is shame and ridicule. Let
us then not pursue it. If they who confer it are of less account than a
shadow or a dream, the honor itself much more so. "The glory of man is
as the flower of the grass" (1 Pet. i. 24); and what is meaner than the
flower of the grass? Were this glory everlasting, in what could it profit
the soul? In nothing. Nay, it very greatly injures us by making us slaves,
slaves in worse condition than those bought with money, slaves who obey
not one master only, but two, three, ten thousand, all giving different
commands. How much better is it to be a free man than a slave, to be free
from the slavery of men, and subject only to the dominion of God? In a
word, if thou wilt desire glory, desire it, but let it be the glory immortal,
for that is exhibited on a more glorious stage, and brings greater profit.
For the men here bid thee be at charges to please them, but Christ, on
the contrary, giveth thee an hundredfold for what thou givest Him, and
addeth moreover eternal life. Which of the two then is better, to be admired
on earth, or in heaven? by man, or by God? to your loss, or to your gain?
to wear a crown for a single day, or for endless ages? Give to him that
needeth, but give not to a dancer, lest thou lose thy money and destroy
his soul. For thou art the cause of his (coming to) perdition through unseasonable
munificence. Since did those on the stage know that their employment would
be unprofitable, they would have long ago ceased to practice it; but when
they behold thee applauding, crowding after them, spending and wasting
thy substance upon them, even if they have no desire to follow (their profession),
they are kept to it by the desire of gain. If they knew that no one would
praise what they do, they would soon desist from their labors, by reason
of their unprofitableness; but when they see that the action is admired
by many, the praise of others becomes a bait to them. Let us then desist
from this unprofitable expense, let us learn upon whom and when we ought
to spend. Let us not, I implore you, provoke God in both ways, gathering
whence we ought not, and scattering where we ought not; for what anger
doth not thy conduct deserve, when thou passest by the poor and givest
to a harlot? Would not the paying the hire of sin and the bestowing honor
where it were meet to punish have been a charge against thee, even hadst
thou paid out of thy just earnings? but when thou feedest thine uncleanness
by stripping orphans and wronging widows, consider how great a fire is
prepared for those who dare such things. Hear what Paul saith, "Who not
only do these things, but also have pleasure in them that do them." (Rom.
Perhaps we have touched you sharply, yet if we touch you not, there
are actual punishments awaiting those who sin without amendment. What then
availeth it to gratify by words those who shall be punished by realities?
Dost thou take pleasure at a dancer, dost thou praise and admire him? Then
art thou worse than he; his. poverty affords him an excuse though not a
reasonable one, but thou art stripped even of this defense. If I ask him,
"Why hast thou left other arts and come to this accursed and impure one?"
he will reply, "because I can with little. labor gain great profits." But
if I ask thee why thou admirest one who spends his time in impurity, and
lives to the mischief of many, thou canst not run to the same excuse, but
must bow down thy face and be ashamed and blush. Now if when called by
us to give account, thou wouldest have nothing to reply, when that terrible
and inexorable Judgment cometh where we shall render account of thoughts
and deeds and everything, how shall we stand? with what eyes shall we behold
our Judge? what shall we say? what defense shall we make? what excuse reasonable
or unreasonable shall we put forward? shall we allege the expense? the
gratification? the perdition of others whom by means of his art we ruin?
We can have nothing to say, but must be punished with a punishment having
no end, knowing no limit. That this come not to pass, let us henceforth
guard all points, that having departed with a good hope, we may obtain
the everlasting blessings; to which may we all attain through the grace
and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom to the
Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end,