July 29, 2018, 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12 YR B
The Rev. Frank H. Moss III Resurrection/Pent. 10/Pr. 12B/July 29, 2018 2 Kings 4:42-44/Ep. 3:14-21/Jn. 6:1-21
This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.
The feeding of the 5000 is the only one of Jesus’ miracle stories that appears in all four Gospels. In fact, it appears twice in Matthew and Mark, once with 5000 people and a second time with 4000. Clearly it is a very important story. That is especially true of John’s version which we heard today.
If you have studied the Gospels at all, you probably know that Mark is the oldest Gospel and both Matthew and Luke borrowed a lot of their material from Mark. That is not true of John. His version is the latest and he leaves out a lot of the material that the other three Gospel writers share, including Jesus’ birth story and the last supper. The fact that he included the feeding of the 5000 suggest that it was a very important story in his narrative.
By the time Jesus burst on the scene the people of Israel had spent a lot of their time in exile. Much of the Old Testament describes stories of the Israelites being dragged off into exile and then being rescued by the prophets and brought home. None of those stories is more important than Moses’ leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. It involved the overcoming of the sea and the miraculous feeding of the Israelites in the Wilderness. It is such an important story that the Jews still observe Passover as one of their most important feast days. It is impossible to read today’s Gospel without seeing the striking parallels with the Exodus story.
Whenever Jesus had spent a lot of time with the crowds, he always retreated to a quiet place to recharge his batteries. Unfortunately, wherever he went, the crowds followed him, as they did in today’s reading. As often happened, they had no plan other than to be with Jesus. When mealtime came, Jesus asked the disciples how they were planning to feed the crowd. In typical fashion they responded that it was impossible. Much to their astonishment, Jesus took the meager resources that a young boy had brought and divided it until there was enough for everyone, with food left over.
The people of Israel had spent their entire history waiting for a king, a conqueror who could finally assert their place in the world. After all the things that they had witnessed Jesus’ doing, they were convinced that he was the one: “This is the prophet who is to come into the world.” Their long wait was over. Unfortunately, Jesus had not come to be the kind of king they had been waiting for. He fled to the mountains and when we next see him the disciples are caught in a huge storm and are terrified. Jesus walks to them on the water, the storm is calmed and the disciples are saved.
Why did John put these two stories together this way? They were not intended for us to marvel over miracles, but to really see who Jesus is. Jesus is the one who comes to calm the seas and to feed the hungry. John used these two stories as his version of baptism and the Eucharist. Just as Moses calmed the water so the Israelites could cross over to the other side, the water of baptism carries us over to the other side as members of the body of Christ. Then we are fed by Jesus with the bread that doesn’t ever run out and all of our hungers are satisfied.
As some of you may know, Betsy and I live at Cascade Manor and we had to do some major downsizing to keep our apartment from looking like a furniture store. We are now at the point where we don’t need anything. It has been a hard adjustment for me because I have come to realize that I really like to buy things even though I know that the joy of having new stuff only lasts for a little while. As John points out in the Gospel, the only thing that truly lasts is our life in Christ and the bread we share at the altar. As the crowd found out, the king is here and nothing else matters.