“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9, NRSV – find this week’s texts at the Vanderbilt RCL site)
It’s the week Year B leaves Mark and begins a sojourn in John’s gospel, and although there be only five loaves here, the coming weeks will bring bread until preachers are very tired of it. As in the other stories of miraculous feedings, I am struck by the sheer number needing to be fed. 5000 people is a lot of people. Imagine you are at a campsite with a lot of other families, and no one packed any food, and they are coming by to check out what’s in your larder.
Jesus asks his disciples, “How will we feed all these people?”
It is admittedly a set-up, the question Jesus asks about getting provisions for all those people. He knew something like this would happen. In John’s gospel, he is never surprised. John doesn’t spend time making the case that Jesus is human and divine. His Jesus is always and in every way God, from the prologue (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…) to the epilogue with its parallel meal of bread and fish.
Jesus knows what is going on:
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. (John 6:15)
Jesus is not interested in the earthly kingdom machinations that drive King David in this week’s continuation of his narrative arc. David elevates his own desires above the good of those he leads. Jesus is a different kind of king. The gospel reading ends with the disciples rowing through a storm, and Jesus walking on the water and a sudden arrival at the destination, a glancing reference to stories from the other gospels in which the disciples see the power of Jesus on display. He is beyond our standards for power and strength, but not interested in using that power and strength for his own benefit.
A few possibilities for preaching:
- What do we want and expect from our leaders? We might ask this about our nations, our militaries, our churches. I’m thinking of the story this past week about Donald Trump and John McCain. What makes a person a hero? What makes a person fit to lead?
- In the feeding portion of the gospel lesson, consider other times God made something out of what we might consider to be not much. The alternate Hebrew Bible reading about Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44) underscores this theme.
- The demands on the church feel overwhelming these days. There are so many needs in the world, needs for all kinds of feeding, both material and spiritual. We may feel like we have nothing to give, or that if we give what we have, there will be nothing left. Will God multiply what we have if we give it away? Look to Ephesians 3:14-21 to support this hope. God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
- The miracle takes place in the giving of thanks – what might expand for us if we thanked God for what we have? The second Psalm option, Psalm 145:10-18, is a great match for this direction.
What direction are you headed, preachers? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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