Trinity 9 – Sunday 29 July 2018- Stoke Hammond
Gospel John 6:1-21
Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’
10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Jesus walks on the water
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Today’s gospel reading from John describes the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, and immediately following that is the account of Jesus walking on water.
You have probably heard countless sermons on the so-called nature miracles; and most clergy have preached several times on these events, which turn up more than once, every year in our lectionary.
Let me start by reading for you a passage from 2 Kings chapter 4 in the OT by way of background:
Feeding of a hundred
42 A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe corn, along with some ears of new corn. ‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said.
43 ‘How can I set this before a hundred men?’ his servant asked.
But Elisha answered, ‘Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: “They will eat and have some left over.”’ 44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.
The ‘man of God’ was Elisha the prophet, and I am sure you were struck by the similarity of the miracle with the feeding of the 5,000. In fact the chapter is full of such events involving illness and famine.
Jesus’s audience would have immediately made the link for themselves. Did John want to depict Jesus as a prophet in the mould of the OT prophets? We know Jesus constantly quoted the Hebrew scriptures, and called himself Son of Man and so although we nowadays are not steeped in the Old Testament prophets, we can understand better the miracles such as the Feeding of the 5,000 by appreciating how the first audience would have interpreted it.
The parallels are obvious. Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea. The last meal that they ate in Egypt was the forerunner of the Passover, and of course the Holy Communion. Moses went up a mountain, and so did Jesus—and so on.
But the passage is not just about Jesus the Prophet, but who Jesus was which goes way beyond the fact that Moses talked face to face with God, as did Jesus himself. This is where we have the advantage—we know and believe Jesus to be divine, which would have been a giant step too far for those who sat down the eat with him.
Elisha’s servant protested to his master that 20 loaves of barley bread were hopelessly inadequate to provide a meal for a crowd, and Philip protested to Jesus that ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ Elisha’s servant just did what he was told and there was food left over. Likewise there were 12 baskets remaining of bread left over at the end of the Feeding of the 5,000—proving God’s abundance and grace to those who put their trust in him.
The crowd are impressed by what they have seen, but they only conclude that Jesus is a latter day prophet in the OT mould.
‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ they say. This is why Jesus resists being acclaimed king. He is much more than that, but it will take more than a ‘sign’ before they are prepared to see him as more than just a prophet. This will be by a series of signs, some demonstrating mastery over the forces of nature which can only point to his divinity.
The Walking on the Water is a case in point. He tells the frightened disciples ‘It is I; don’t be afraid,’ making reference to the words “I AM” —It is I—which in this case is the name for God.
So here we have the start of a transition between how Jesus portrays himself in a way that people steeped in the OT can understand, but also laying the foundations with his disciples who will be called on to assert he is much more than just another prophet.
The test of our faith and that of the church is to put ourselves in the shoes of Philip and Andrew, or of Elisha’s servant. Would we respond with the impossibility and impracticality of what we were being asked to do—of what Jesus challenges us to believe—or would we put our faith and trust in him and boldly lay out the provisions, inadequate as they seem to be?
Putting prayer at the centre of a life of faith provides that challenge. Do we ask for the impossible? Do we stick to asking for what we believe can be answered? Do we listen to God’s command and believe that in Jesus, all things are possible?