July 25, 2021
Sunday between July 24 and July 30 inclusive
Proper 12, Ordinary Time 17
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 6:1-21 The Message or John 6:1-21, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "To be added."
Continuing my vow not to rant about the illogical choices the designers of the Lectionary made that present such challenges for preachers, I'll not comment on the sudden switch from Mark to John for 5 Sundays, as though the two were inter-changeable, which they're not; nor will I comment on trying to preach on a single lesson that contains two stories, each of which deserves its own reflection.
As always, Malina and Rohrbaugh (see link at bottom) come to our rescue with useful background.
Even if we hadn't been told already, by Verse 2 our ears should suddenly start tingling with alarms that we have switched from Mark to John. The trigger for this is the word "signs."
This word ought to warn us that from now on everything we are going to read is not merely an "event," not merely something that happens - even if it is a miraculous happening. From now on everything we are going to read is a SIGN. That is, something that points to another reality, a hidden truth that is in plain sight. (See my Introduction to John for further comments about the crucial importance of signs in John.)
It is a complete mis-reading of John to get stuck on the "miraculous," non-scientific nature of the events he is about to describe. To do so would be like spending an evening in a fabulous restaurant reading the menu and never enjoying the delicious food. These are signs. They point to a feast. Eat; don't just read.
Verse 3. Mountains are wild and dangerous places. Decent people never went there. Bandits live there. And wild animals. And evil spirits. But also, mountains are "thin" places, holy places, places where God is encountered.
Verse 4. This is the second annual Passover mentioned in John. Again, this is a trigger word, and ought to alert us that something is going to happen that will foreshadow the glory of God that will be finally revealed at the third Passover (what we Christians now call Holy Thursday and Good Friday).
Verse 5. Bread is another trigger word in John. Notice that Jesus asks a question about WHERE bread can be bought, but Philip responds about the PRICE. If Philip had been paying attention he would have passed Jesus' pop quiz, because he would have known both WHERE the bread of life comes from, and at what PRICE. The rest of the story is a sign that points to where the bread of life comes from.
There is a lot going on in this story.
The fact that 5,000 men plus an unknown number of women and children had left their towns and villages to travel into the wilderness to be with Jesus is an indication of his growing fame. (And may be an exaggeration, since a crowd of that size would be larger than most cities in Jesus' time.)
The only other time these people would have left their homes would be to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. That John has them come to be with Jesus suggests Jesus as an alternative to the Temple - and to the Jerusalem ruling elite.
Verse 9. Andrew's question:
What are five loaves and two fish among so many people?
is a warning for us to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to really SEE what is going to happen next.
Aside. Remember. This is a sign; it points to something else. The story doesn't actually say there were ONLY 5 loaves and two fish among all those people; that no one else had any food with them. But that is not the point. Please don't tell the Stone Soup story to explain this sign. This is a sign about where to find the bread of life and at what price.
Verse 11. Notice the parallel with how John describes Jesus' actions at the last supper.
Verse 14. Have I already mentioned that what happens here is a sign? Did you see it? The folks there did. And they saw it as pointing to Jesus as "the prophet who is to come into the world."
Verse 15. However, the people mis-understand the implications of the sign they have seen. They want to make Jesus an earthly, political ruler - which is the false charge for which Jesus is later executed. And they want to do it by their own force - which is contrary to the power of God's love.
Jesus escapes and withdraws further into the wildness of the mountain.
But wait. Thanks to the creators of the Lectionary, there's more. Jesus walks on water too! (Sorry, I'm getting a bit giddy.)
The story of Jesus walking on the sea is another sign. It is a sign of Jesus' authority over the living spirit that is the sea. A living spirit that is dangerous and unpredictable.
That this story is a sign of a deeper, spiritual reality is emphasized by the comment that when the disciples in the boat see that it is Jesus and change from being afraid to wanting to take Jesus into the boat, they are all immediately transported to the shore. The spirit of the sea has nothing more to do with them once they want Jesus to be with them in their boat.
As always with miracle stories, the moral of the story is NOT in the literal event.
These stories try to open our eyes, hearts and minds to see the hidden truth that is in plain sight. They are trying to train us so that we too can SEE where is the bread of life; so that we can SEE just how much authority we should give to dangerous, life-threatening, chaotic spirits.
So that we can SEE Jesus and welcome him into our frail boats on the stormy sea.
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, see link below, pages 125-128.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
John 6:1-21 (NRSV)
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 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?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10 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. 11 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. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 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."
15 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.
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 6:1-21 (The Message)
1 After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). 2 A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. 3 When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.
5 When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" 6 He said this to stretch Philip's faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered, "Two hundred silver pieces wouldn't be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece."
8 One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, 9 "There's a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this."
10 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
12 When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." 13 They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
14 The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, "This is the Prophet for sure, God's Prophet right here in Galilee!" 15 Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself.
16 In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. 18 A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. 19 They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, 20 but he reassured them, "It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid." 21 So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials.
Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required.
Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement of source is not required in oral presentations. Otherwise please note as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."