July 25, 2021 at Saint Peter, Saint William, & Saint Ann Churches in Naples, FL
Kings 4, 42-44 + Psalm 145 + Ephesians 4, 1-6 + John 6, 1-15
For the next five weeks, until mid-August, we set aside the Gospel of Mark and take up the Sixth Chapter of John’s Gospel. I encourage you to read and re-read that chapter often in the next several weeks. It’s only seventy-two verses. Less than ten minutes. It will help you move more deeply into the identity of Christ Jesus and draw you into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist which is John’s goal. The First Testament Readings during this time are accounts of extraordinary feedings that will open our hearts and minds to this Chapter of John’s Gospel in which Jesus gradually reveals his true identity and invites us into a life of union with him through Communion. First, today, he feeds the multitude. Next, he claims that those who believe in him will not hunger, because he is the bread of life. Then he will boldly insist that if we do not feed on his flesh and blood we will not have life.
This chapter of John’s Gospel is probably the most important revelation we have been given about Jesus Christ and his presence with us in the Holy Eucharist. Because I am so convinced of this, and because so many people do not grasp or understand what we have in the Holy Eucharist, I have to switch roles for a few minutes and teach rather than preach. Since Mark and Matthew record two occasions when Jesus feeds a crowd, with Luke and John having one, important details in each one get mixed up in our minds. That does not help us get to the heart of what the writer, Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John is doing. They are all different. Of them all, John’s is the most powerful and concise revelation.
In John’s Gospel, there is no eucharistic last meal in an upper room. This chapter is John’s equivalent of the “last supper.” There are several details here unique to John’s Gospel that are very important. There is something special here:
They are in Galilee, not Jerusalem, and it is near the Passover. Every Jewish male was required to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem on a certain day in the first month with sacrifice of a lamb followed by the Passover meal. When that requirement was laid down by Moses, some complained that it was not possible to make the journey in the first month. So, Moses allowed for a second Passover to be celebrated in the second month outside of Jerusalem. No lamb was required since there was no Temple for the sacrifice. What was required was unleavened bread. Now, connect the dots here with me. Jesus has just crossed the lake. Think of Moses passing through the waters at the exodus. Jesus goes up a mountain and sits down to teach which is the posture of a teacher like Moses, and the mountain reminds those who first heard John’s Gospel of the mountain where Moses received the covenant and God was revealed as the great, “I AM”. Now, hang on to that “I AM” because it’s going to come up later in the chapter. Think too of how, through the intercession of Moses, God fed the people in the desert with that Manna. What we end up with before anything happens in this Gospel is a deliberate attempt on John’s part to cast this scene and what follows in the framework of the Exodus with Passover, Moses, and the Covenant.
Then comes the feeding. There are important details here too unique to John’s Gospel. This time, and this time alone, it is Jesus who initiates the action. In the other Gospels, it is the Disciples who bring up the need to send the crowd away to get something to eat. Not here, Jesus starts it all as he asks a question of Philip.
Important to notice also is the matter of five barley loaves. There is bread in the other accounts, but here it is barley. According to Jewish law, the barley could not be used for ordinary eating until it has been offered on the second day within the Passover liturgy. This detail suggests that this feeding is that second Passover allowed for those not able to get to Jerusalem in the first month. In other words, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a Last Supper Meal in Jerusalem in the first month, John has this meal in Galilee, and look who’s there. This time, not a select few, but huge crowd of Galileans. Here, Jesus does exactly what he does in the other Gospels in Jerusalem, He blesses, breaks, and shares. Catch one other detail here. In the other Gospels, he tells the disciples to do the sharing. In John’s Gospel Jesus does the feeding.
So, you see, this chapter is loaded. Read it. It is as important to us who come this table as those other last supper accounts, but even more so. In John’s Gospel the identity of Jesus and how he chooses to remain present to us and what happens to those who consume the food he gives cannot be ignored or missed. Next week then begins what we call, “The Bread of Life Discourse”. Listen intelligently and be hungry for what will be proclaimed.
For today, let’s leave here fed on the Word of God mindful that we do not live on bread alone. Yet, we turn to be fed here with the Bread of Life. Remember that there is more to this Gospel than a simple story about the compassion of Jesus for a crowd. There is also a reminder that when we offer what seems to be too little God can make more than enough with what we have. It’s like jars of water that seem so inadequate at a big wedding feast with no wine. They end up with a lot more than they expected and it was twice as good. It can be that way for us the more deeply we dig into the Word of God, for in discovering the real identity of Jesus, in discovering how and what he has provided for us in the Eucharist, we shall discover who we really are in the sight of God, a people loved, redeemed, and called to holiness and paradise.