But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"
They were convinced by him, and when the had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
Jesus then went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months" wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When the people proclaim him as the prophet foretold by Moses, Jesus is uneasy. If the church is right in seeing him as the fulfilment of Israel's hopes, then why, we wonder, does he react so negatively when the people want him as their king? Maybe they wanted to harness his miraculous powers for their own aims. The miracle that Jesus performed on a single occasion, the people wanted to turn into an everyday handout. The request is perfectly understandable, for he was born to be a king. But the reason for Jesus' displeasure must be in the people's motivation.
In the reading from the Acts, we see how various messiahs had arisen and many people had been confused and misled by them. A member of the Jewish council then proposed a wise standard for judging the issue: If a work is of merely human origin, it will not last for long; but if it comes from God, no one should try to stop it. Even so, the apostles were not fully exonerated. The Sanhedrin decided to flog them before releasing them. But on their release they continued to preach in Jesus' name, fully willing to suffer for his sake.
In the end we may trust in Providence. If what we are doing is God's work, it cannot end in failure. No worthy project is wasted energy. And as we look about us at people who have survived tests of endurance or at institutions that have continued to serve the church over the centuries, we ought to be convinced that such things are part of God's plan. There are many such institutions which deserve much more respect than we often give them; and this thought can be a real spur to ecumenism.
Today we find Jesus and his disciples faced with a hungry crowd and little or no means of feeding them. In this situation of need, people reacted in different ways. Philip made a calculation: on the basis of the number of people and the amount of money available to buy food, and decided that nothing could be done. Andrew recognized that one of the crowd had a small amount of food but he dismissed this small resource as of no value. There were two other reactions in the story. There is the reaction of the small boy who willingly handed over the few pieces of food that he had. This is the reaction of the generous person, prepared to share all he or she has, even though it appears far less than what is needed. He gave whatever he could. Then there is the reaction of Jesus himself. He took the slim resources the young boy was generous enough to part with and, having prayed the prayer of thanksgiving to God over this food, he somehow fed the enormous crowd. The gospel teaches us that if we give generously from our resources to others, the Lord will work powerfully through those resources, small as they may seem to us.