St John the Evangelist didn’t ‘do’ miracles, to borrow a bit of jargon. Unlike the other three evangelists – Matthew, Mark and Luke – who all recounted the many miracles of Jesus, John did not do so in his gospel. Instead, John offers readers what he calls the ‘signs’ of Jesus. There are seven of these ‘signs’, starting with the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Three of the signs are healings: the royal official’s son, the paralysed man at the pool of Bethesda, and the man born blind. Then there is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the time Jesus walked on the water. The gospel account we have listened to today – the feeding of the multitude – is the fourth of the seven ‘signs’ of Jesus in John’s Gospel.

Of course, these ‘signs’ of Jesus that John recounts are each a miraculous event, without a doubt. So why did he not simply call them for what they are? John is keen for his readers to not just marvel in the miraculous, but to understand their deeper truth and significance. We might say that his seven signs are the special things he wants us to know about Jesus, and which can point us along the path toward a realisation of who Jesus is. The purpose of a sign is to point to something; the signs that John identifies point us to something about the identity of Jesus, and to the claims he made about himself.

With that in mind, what might we now see is being pointed to by the sign of the feeding of the multitude? Here, I invite you to recall the other great feeding of a multitude that comes to us from the Old Testament. In the desert, having escaped the oppression of Egypt, and at the behest of Moses, the People of Israel were fed each day by the manna that came down from heaven. God fed his People for the forty years of their Exodus, not from anything they could produce themselves, but through the faith of Moses and God’s mighty, shepherding care.

Remember last week’s gospel, when Jesus set about teaching the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd? Well, here in the sign of the feeding of the multitude, Jesus reveals himself as the true Shepherd, who continues to feed his people, as he once did in the desert. And where does Jesus feed his people? On a grassy hillside beside the flowing waters of Lake Galilee, recalling the psalm about God that is perhaps everyone’s favourite:

The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.

What God had done, so Jesus does. This is what the sign of feeding the multitude is pointing to. In the Rabbi from Nazareth, God has indeed come among his people to provide for them.

We will hear more about the meaning of the sign that took place on the hillside overlooking Lake Galilee next week. We will learn that this sign of Jesus is sacramental in nature, pointing back to the first Passover and forward to the Last Supper. It will be the enduring eucharistic meaning of this sign that will emerge, not the one-off miraculous meal. No longer manna in the desert or barley loaves by the sea, but now, and ongoingly, the flesh and blood of Him who gave his entire self that we might live.

God will provide. God – in Jesus – does provide. Jesus, who is God, still provides. May we take, and eat, with faith in the Real Presence of God-with-us.