A Reflection on John 6:1-21
(for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, July 26, 2015)
After this Jesus 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 towards 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 evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going. (John 6:1-21, NRSV).
Our text explicitly states that Jesus is putting forward a test.
‘Where will we buy bread for these people eat?’ Jesus asks Philip. A ‘large crowd’ approaches. They are relatively isolated. Andrew offers the lunch of a child. Barley loaves. A couple of fish. Is his a gesture in the direction of a failed search?
Indeed, ‘what are they among so many’? Nothing.
Jesus, however, indicates that the disciples prepare the crowd. It is time to eat.
I wonder how the disciples encouraged the multitude to sit. Did they promise rest? Point out the well grassed location and suggest a nature retreat? Perhaps they simply told them that Jesus said ‘sit’ and they did. Somehow I doubt the disciple’s ability to convey a conviction that dinner was prepared!
But prepared it is. A simple prayer of thanks. A faith-filled distribution. And for all – of all things – enough!
Such abundance, in fact, that the disciples are left to cleaning up leftovers. Twelve loaded baskets! A private pile for each disciple to ponder. Every piece a miracle.
And more than a miracle. A ‘sign’. This act points somewhere.
The speculation is immediate. Not about the how. They speculate over the who: ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
And why not make Jesus king? How nicely a crowning would round out all those ‘Son of David’ claims.
Jesus will have none of it, however. A crown, yes, but not an Israel-limited one of gold. His will be cast in thorns. A border-defying, reign moulded by the grace of heaven.
Jesus disappears from this impromptu inauguration.
Only the exhausted and afraid disciples eventually discover his whereabouts. Jesus is found defying gravity in the midst of their storm. His introduction, ‘It is I, do not be afraid’, is enough to move them from terror to welcome.
Another sign? Another test? The crossing brings them a step closer to answering their burning questions: Who is this need-providing, now gravity and storm-defying, crown-refusing king? And where could these wondrous signs possibly be leading?
It also leaves me with a burning question: What sign is Jesus is using to direct you into his kingdom?