We began to look last week at what it means that Jesus describes himself as the ‘Bread of Life’ and so absolutely essential to our living. We spoke about how, without bread, any Middle Eastern diner of 2000 years ago would have stayed hungry, and so his point that without our embrace of who and what Jesus actually is, and does, there is a very real sense in which our lives remain incomplete. We’re continuing that theme today by exploring something of the abundance (John 6:1-15) of life that that truth represents. Next week, we’ll be looking at the physicality (John 6:24-35) of that teaching, then on August 8 at the familiarity of it (John 6:35,41-51), ending on Aug 15 with how, for it to have any meaningful significance in and through our lives, it does need our actual eating (John 6:51-58).
Miles from anywhere – this great crowd that the disciples spotted as needing to be fed, and how Jesus had said that it was going to be up to them somehow to provide all that food! How on earth were they going to do that? I love how the disciples look kind of ridiculous in verse 9 – almost like a skit that the genius English comedy team Monty Python would produce: ‘well, we do have this little boy here with a bit of bread and fish’ What was Jesus supposed to do with that? Seriously – what were they thinking? What do we generally do in those situations where we can see some pretty obvious need – some obviously enormous challenge – maybe we start mumbling that ‘someone’ should do something about it – only to have it thrown straight back at us – YOU do something! But what can I do? What can we do?
In the light of so many very serious challenges facing our world currently: the global climate change crisis we see resulting in these terrible wildfires. While reeling here in BC and NW America, CNN reports how it’s not just here, how: ‘near the Russian Siberian city known as the coldest in the world fires have consumed more than 6.5 million acres since the start of the year’ And that’s not even mentioning the desperate flood-devastation experienced by others throughout Europe and elsewhere, significant world challenges. Also, we continue to live within awful and on-going discrimination against people who ‘we’ believe are different from us by virtue of skin colour, or religion, or Sexual orientation, Gender identity, or social or economic status, privilege.
But just what can I do? What can we do?
If only everyone who is asking that question had actually to start doing just something – however small and Monty-Pythonesque it may seem – what a difference we could possibly make!
Our faithful actions – even starting from of our most profound sense of inadequacy – seems to be all of what is required of us for Christ to create abundant sufficiency!!!
The point is that those disciples saw the need and of course they must have known how ridiculously inadequate that bit of fish and bread was in terms of actual resources, yet, because Christ was involved, they felt free enough to offer it – just what they had – and quite miraculously it was enough!
But before being able to receive, we’re told in vs 10, those people were ‘made’ to sit down! That recalls Psalm 23 where we are told that the Lord ‘who is our Shepherd’ also makes us to sit – even to lie – down in green pastures in order to restore our souls.
In this text, they were ‘made’ to sit where there was a ‘great deal of grass’ in order to be supernaturally fed. It’s like we are being told that Christ requires some sense of stability from us before receiving the blessing that God intends. Perhaps this suggests that while we are on the move, unstable – rushing from one thing to another – as James 1 says ‘like a wave being tossed by the wind’ – we are somehow not properly receptive to God’s provision. I think also of the first of St Benedict’s 3 vows, written way back in the 6th C, that along with changeability and obedience it is essential we becoming stable. We are to be properly rooted within our circumstances in order to receive.
And then, what an abundance was provided! I love how that is always God’s way. It’s we who get stuck in scarcity – probably as a kind of control thing. Starting out with just a boy’s bit of bread and fish there was enough for everyone to eat well, with 12 baskets of food left over! Extravagant! Lavish! That is how God is always described in terms of character and Grace and purpose. We’re being told that God’s love for us and all of creation is infinite/ inexhaustible. I think of the billions of brilliant wild flowers that blossom and wither never to be seen, or of the extravagant party thrown by the father at the return of the Prodigal Son, or the almost 1000 liters of most extraordinary wine that Jesus produced at that wedding in Cana as the wine was running out… Excessive! Over the top! Unrestrained! But we struggle with God’s profligate economy… We don’t like wastefulness. Recklessness. We like to see things as being fair, measured, carefully meted out according to what we think is most sensible/practical/prudent – thank God that THAT is not what God does with us! Imagine just the tiny the scrap of grace we would receive if it were to depend on the bit of faith we are able to muster???
And then, in vs 15, we see Jesus moving to escape the crowds’ attempts at making him king. Why? Imagine how confusing that must have been for the disciples who were at last seeing their rabbi’s ministry gaining some traction! Jesus truly was a PR nightmare. Every time his popularity began to grow it seems that he would do something to knock it back. The point is that while he is about all the wonderful and abundant things that the crowd enjoyed, he will not be manipulated. He will not allow them (or us) to reduce his lordship to whatever is just their (or our) agenda!
Do we do that? Do we decide what kind of a Jesus we would like to have as our ‘lord’ and then develop whatever theologies we think are necessary to have him fit the bill? Do we actually believe that we know better? No! It is all truly SOOO much MORE than whatever dull and parochial thing we make our faithful living to be. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once described the role of religion (and I would say every possible religion worth its salt) as being about animating all humanity with a zest for life! It’s to spur us on to regaining a sense of what real living is all about – beyond all the feint and feeble agendas we develop.
I think that I am beginning to get it. That is what the Gospel is, and it’s what the Gospel does! And it’s right here, in Jesus – that we see it being most clearly presented to us, offered not just for us to notice or believe, but actually to engage with, become participants in. ‘Eat this bread’.
In the next verses after today’s reading, we have this last very powerful scene of the disciples out on the dark sea with a howling wind threatening their safety, when they see Jesus walking towards them – ON TOP OF THE WATER! If we understand that storming wind and surging dark water as representing our own circumstances as they are most challenging, then, Jesus coming close ON TOP OF THE WATER means that even the worst of our circumstances can’t stop him. It suggests that our living within the way of Jesus puts everything in perspective as under his feet – under his control.
Notice how they didn’t have actually to have it altogether in their lives – they didn’t have to have Jesus actually be in the boat with them – it was enough for them simply to be desiring of that and IMMEDIATELY they were at a place of safety. It seems that we don’t have to have it altogether in our lives for us to have that sacred sense of being within the stream of God’s controlling grace – all we are being encouraged to do in this passage is to desire that!
And that is SUCH good news!
If, like me, or like St Paul in Rom.7, or most others, you find yourself falling short of what you know we are all created by God in Christ to be and to do – well, somehow, there is hope, as we are being given to still see him out there approaching us on top of our circumstances…
We long to see a healthier more whole creation. A creation with open, giving, loving communities where everybody actually does live with respect for themselves, one another & all creation… We long for that and – yes- we do try to do what we can as we lean in towards that. But our hope is not ultimately in ourselves and our abilities to achieve any of that on our own, our hope is always and ever only in the one who we believe is both with us and ahead of us. The one who is even now, busy, seeing our hunger, just waiting for us to sit down in expectant faith of being fed, longing to take whatever small loaves and fish-offering we may be bringing of ourselves, our lives, our resources – quite regardless of how inadequate we may feel, and who is able miraculously to multiply them into such abundance, waaaay beyond whatever we may think is needed.
But notice too how it’s an abundance which is always only ever measured by what God is choosing to see. Christ will not be manipulated to providing us with whatever we simply want to see being achieved for ourselves. It’s for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven that we pray – not for God to create our kingdom on earth as we want it to be!
May that be our desire and then, however it evolves, may what is fulfilled be according to what God intends and – like those disciples – we can expect to arrive on God’s dry ground, safe, and according to God’s will and Christ’s glory.
May it be so…
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