For those of you that have been with us for the last few weeks, I have been preaching out of Mark chapter 6. You may also remember I mentioned last week that we skipped a section of Mark 6 to come back to at a later date, the story of the feeding of the 500 and Jesus walking on water. Today is the day but it may seem that the lectionary has thrown us a curve ball this morning because we are reading out of John chapter 6 not Mark 6. Our lectionary is divided up so that we read from one of the synoptic gospels each year, Matthew, Mark, Luke because they share so many of the same stories. The year we read Mark, the shortest gospel, we also read from John. The feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water two of the few stories that show up in both Mark and John and they are placed back to back in both gospels which tells me that 1) they are very important stories and 2) the stories belong together.
Reading Mark is like chewing on a piece of caramel. Mark only offers you small little bits, but he leaves you chewing on it for hours. Where reading John is like eating an exotic flavor of ice cream. It is served up by the bowlful and each bite is a bit of heaven. John is full of detailed descriptions and lengthy monologs, but he tells you right up front what he is trying to say. Mark subtly sandwiches stories together for emphasis and makes you tease the meaning out of the text. Our lectionary editors chose to feed you with John this morning, but I also want us to remember how these stories fit into Mark and what Mark was trying to say as well.
In the gospel of John, Jesus has just been criticized for healing someone on the Sabbath. He turns around and tells his critics that they are looking for salvation in the wrong place. Jesus speaks at length about the source of his authority and he tells them that while they are searching the scriptures, salvation is staring them in the face, yet they cannot see it. At this point, Jesus takes the disciples with him in the boat, crosses the Sea of Galilee and goes up on a mountain to teach his disciples.
John is a details person. He tells us that it was close to time for the Passover, which means that Jews from all over the Middle East had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Jesus looks up from his teaching and he sees a large crowd of people coming toward him. This is a teaching moment for Jesus. He turns to Philip and asks him, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip looks at the crowd, probably said a few unprintable words, and responds to Jesus, “Six months wages would not even begin to feed this crowd.” Now Andrew is a man of action. He has already started scrambling to figure out how to accomplish what Jesus has purposed, but he comes to the conclusion they don’t have adequate resources. He has found one small boy with five barley loaves and two fish. One “Happy Meal” to feed thousands.
Jesus gets the crowds to sit down on the grass. I’m always amazed that no one has considered that by itself to be a miracle. This is clearly a demonstration of Jesus’ authority. Jesus then takes the loaves, gives thanks, and proceeds to pass out the bread and fish to “those who were seated.” We do not get a liturgical description of the Last Supper in John. Many scholars point to this story as John’s Eucharistic story. Those who have submitted their wills to Jesus, and obeyed his command to sit down, have been fed. John leaves no room for reasonable explanations of people showing up with food and suddenly pulling it out to share. Jesus is the only actor once the loaves and fish have been given to him. This was God, through Jesus, giving people without hope, people without sufficient resources, an abundance.
Once everyone has been “satisfied,” only then Jesus sends the disciples to gather up the crumbs so that nothing may be lost and gathers twelve baskets full. Twelve is often seen to represent completeness and authority in the scriptures. Through Jesus’ authority, the food fed all who were present and there were enough crumbs to fill twelve baskets. Jesus insists that all the “crumbs” be gathered up so that “nothing may be lost.” Many tie this to the twelve tribes of Israel, and I certainly believe that they are included, in fact, they were the first to be fed. They were the ones gathered at Jesus feet. The Siro-Phoenician women who argued with Jesus reminded him that even the dogs, gentiles, are allowed to gather the crumbs that fall from the children’s plates. After Jesus blesses the food, there is even enough crumbs to feed any non-Jews who are hungry. David said , “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Remember, Mark wants it understood that Jesus is God, the good shepherd.
Mark indicated the people, including the disciples still did not understand the significance of this act. This was a giant billboard proclaiming “this is the Messiah.” John tells us the people recognized the sign, they just didn’t understand the role and the significance of the Messiah. They were looking for another King David not God. They wanted someone to come in and beat up their enemies, not teach them how to love their enemies and turn them into friends. Jesus sensed that the people were intending to try and force him to accept the role of “king” and he slips away, back up the mountain, alone.
Mark interestingly describes a familiar liturgical scene. Jesus, the celebrant at Eucharist, first dismisses the apostles, the Eucharistic Ministers, (think about our recession) and then he dismisses the crowd before going off alone to pray.
Now in both Gospels, we have Jesus alone on the mountain praying, and either the disciples get tired of waiting for Jesus to come down from his prayers and leave without him, or they decide to get in a couple hours of fishing while Jesus is otherwise occupied. It is dark when Jesus returns to the shore and the boat has left without him, so he decides to walk home and takes the short cut straight across the water. The wind has come up and the guys in the boat are not making much headway. They are straining against the oars as Jesus calmly begins to walk right past them, and apparently at this time had no intention of saying anything to them. Suddenly they spot Jesus, but do not recognize him. They think they are seeing a ghost and in their defense I suspect if any of us saw someone walking across the lake in the middle of the night we might have the same reaction. They start screaming. Jesus calls out to them and tells them “It is I, do not to be afraid” and he gets in the boat with them. Mark tells us the wind immediately ceased. John tells us the boat, which had been about 3 miles out in the lake suddenly arrived at the shore. Again, John wants us to see the miraculous.
This was another “sign” that Jesus was not just any other man. Jesus had authority over the wind and the water as well. He is the light that shown in the darkness at creation and he was present with the Spirit, the wind of God, when the Spirit moved over the waters at creation. So too here, Jesus shines in the night and moves over the water. This story is a perfect illustration of John’s opening claims about Jesus.
Mark tells us the apostles were amazed but they still did not understand because their hearts were hard. John says the crowd was amazed, realizing that the apostles had left without Jesus, and finding him on the opposite shore with them the next morning. Jesus points out to the crowd that they are not seeking him because he walked on water, but only because they got fed the day before.
Mark has been trying to point out that Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies and that the kingdom of God is unfolding in the midst of the people. John is trying to open our eyes to the divinity of Jesus and the incredible implications of the Incarnation. Both remind us that we fail to see what is right before our eyes.
Christ wants to reveal himself to you today. Look for him in the bread of life, broken and given out to you today at the Eucharist. See him in the water of baptism in the baptismal font. Invite him into your boat. Find him in the flicker of the candles, the light that shines in the darkness and hear him call in midst of the storms of life. “It is I, do not be afraid.”