Today’s gospel reading presents us with two well-known moments in Jesus’ ministry.
These moments are so well-known that they have passed into everyday speech …
- the hard-pressed host and hostess talk of the challenge of feeding the 5000;
- the over-ambitious, hard-nosed go-getter is described as thinking that he or she can walk on water.
But … this familiarity trivializes the message that lies at the heart of these profoundly spiritual events.
If you enjoy a good whodunnit you will know that the authors in that genre throw great amounts of detail at their readers as a way of keeping those readers distanced from the truth.
In today’s gospel John also presents us with a great deal of detail, but this is not intended to create confusion. Rather, it is meant to provide a path to deeper understanding.
The gospel account of the Feeding of the 5000 is an important story in the life and ministry of Jesus … its importance being signalled by the fact that it is the only miracle recorded in all of the four gospels … the account we hear today contains more detail than those we read in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The Feeding of the 5000 comes after a number of significant confrontations:
- with those who objected to Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath;
- with those who questioned Jesus’ authority as the Son of God.
After these confrontations Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee where he was, once again, surrounded by crowds anxious to experience the miracle of healing.
In John’s account two of Jesus’ disciples feature prominently.
It is in those two disciples, Philip and Andrew, that we begin to see the detail which is so easy to understand.
Philip tries to apply human logic and common sense to the situation …
- it was getting late;
- the crowd was very large indeed;
- there was no food readily available;
- to get enough food would cost six month’s wages;
- nothing can be done … send them away … let them sort it out for themselves!
And then there was Andrew …
Andrew’s approach is very different from that of Philip …
- Andrew must have actually engaged with those around him … how else would he have known that that boy had a little bread and fish?
- Andrew ignored the issue of cost … instead he trusted in Jesus’ power.
- Andrew did not foresee or understand what was about to happen … but he knew that if anyone was going to save the day it was going to be Jesus.
Through Jesus we see an overflowing of God’s bounty … enough heavenly food for all of God’s faithful people.
Suddenly the people thought they understood …Jesus must be their long-awaited King … but, the sort of king who would ease the burden of Roman oppression, rather than the divine King he truly was (and is!).
Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
And then we read of Jesus walking on the water.
Jesus did not take on human form to perform conjuring tricks.
Jesus’ miracles are moments in the gospel narrative when the glory of the Word made flesh shines through the chaos and evil of everyday human existence.
Jewish history makes it clear that the Jews of OT times were not seafarers, and that the sea was associated with chaos, evil and untameable forces.
In the book of Psalms we find many references to God overcoming the evil powers of the deep.
Putting all this into context, Jesus’ defying of the sea’s ability to destroy human life can only be viewed as underlining the message we should be deriving from the two significant stories we hear in today’s gospel reading …
Trust in God alone for all that we need in this world, his generosity and his bounty will reward us greatly for our unwavering faith.
So … how can we take today’s gospel into our everyday lives?
First, learn from Philip’s mistakes, and be like Andrew.
Then, when life gets squally, don’t concentrate on the negative … instead, learn to recognize what you do have to offer, and all that God has given you.
Offer back to God the good things you have … however small and inadequate they may seem … and then allow him to come alongside and work that miracle of healing and restoration … rescuing you from the maelstrom of greed and self-interest.
And then … as the storm rages around you … listen.
You may just catch that voice saying … as he said to his disciples on the storm-tossed Sea of Galilee … It is I; do not be afraid.
Remember … if we take Jesus on board we will always find ourselves … sooner than we could ever have hoped … at the harbour … calm and secure in God’s loving and overwhelmingly generous embrace.