Sunday, July 22, 2012

Believing GOD Is At Work & Provides. Homily for JOHN 6:1-15

Homily for 7.29.12
JOHN 6:1-15 (see below)
Year B

And so, as promised last week, our Lectionary Gospel reading for today brings us to the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000, or the miracle of the Five Loaves and the Two Fish.

This miracle story is actually included in all four gospels, which surprisingly parallel each other fairly well. What must be kept in mind as we think-through this text is that the gospel writers offer this account as a way to help us understand Jesus' presentation of the Kingdom, with himself as King.

This means, first, that the people's response to the miracle:

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king..."
seems to be right on the mark, which makes Jesus' response:
"he withdrew again to the mountain alone."
all the more curious.

Why withdraw when you have what you seek in your grasp? The only answer must be that Jesus did not want what the people offered.

Earlier in Mark's gospel Jesus describes the people as sheep with no shepherd -- by which he means lost and leaderless. Jesus then teaches and presents his Kingdom agenda, but apparently their desire to make him King, in the end, had nothing to do with Jesus' teaching-presentation of himself to the people. That is, the miracle of the bread and fish trumped the parable teachings that Jesus used to describe his Kingdom.

To be sure, Jesus' miracles before the people were meant to demonstrate an alternative to Rome and Herod, but not a violent alternative which is what the people expected. Instead, Jesus here presents the people an expression of the Kingdom that seeks to overcome the brokenness and the wickedness of the world through sacrificial love and reconciliation.


We know only too well that on the face of it Jesus’ message is absurd. How could he expect the people who heard him that day to face the brutality of empire and the corruption of Herod with love, acceptance and forgiveness? Their zeal, as with all religious zeal, was much to strong to withstand the message of peace and love. They wanted blood; they wanted vindication.

Of course, we still contend with this issue, don't we? If we are honest we still question, if not with our mouths at least with our actions, the meaning of Jesus' Kingdom. Just how does loving our neighbor more than ourselves and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us mean anything in the squalor of the real world? No wonder our gospel is a gospel of personal peace and affluence. When fully lit, the scheme of this brutal world, filled with starving children, bombed-out homes and disease plagued streets, stands in steep, stark contrast to Jesus' Kingdom program. What does Jesus, even truly presented, have to say?

Well, we must not get ahead of the lectionary story here, but that is what the cross of Christ actually means. The cross proclaims that the death of this young Jewish prophet contained within it the actual change needed to save the world. And in case it is not evident, let me be clear to say that I do not mean only some sort personal salvation. When I say the world, I mean the world, not just me and mine.

Said differently, the cross changed the actual make-up of the world! That is, within the cross the power of GOD to remake the world and to reclaim the world from the powers of darkness and the forces of empire comes rushing into the warp and woof of the world! So that, in the cross and in the resurrection fundamental reality changed forever.

And so, here is the question:
Do We Believe This?
Do we believe it in the midst of the hospital rooms, nursing homes and grave yards? Do we believe it in the face a mountain of counter-evidence?

This is, in fact, what the texts asks of us today. The texts calls on us to suspend our belief in scarcity (Brueggemann) and cognitive homelessness (Berger), and instead to believe that GOD is truly there and actually cares for the world. We are challenged to believe that GOD cares so much that he became part of the world to set things right!

Therefore, the text prompts an act of faith from us, faith that asserts that GOD is Father, and is at work in the world even when that work is subtle, incognito and seen only by looking backward.

Notice, then, from the text we learn that:





Clearly, this is the primary push of the text. GOD's love for the world is made clear and evident in this final and complete presentation of himself. GOD, in Christ, has come close, coming unto his own and offering himself as the promised prophet, the Messiah. These miracles are meant to substantiate and illuminate this offer.

And where is GOD working? What is GOD doing? He is in the hovels and hell-holes, meeting the needs of the broken and bruised that are his people. He cares for those who are left-out, locked-out and pushed-out. He desires to include those most of us would not want near our house, let alone at our table. You do see that Jesus ate with these people, right?

Notice also that GOD meets the people's needs. Many commentators have observed that the bread Jesus here shares echoes the mana from heaven described in the Hebrew Bible, mana that was GOD's provision for his people. This text means us to know that GOD is still in the mana business; GOD is still providing for his world and for those who desire to be his people. 

But we daily miss the LORD's daily provision, don’t we? Our lives are so filled with worry and the heartache that comes from worry because we do not trust the providential care of GOD. Or said more pointedly, we do not trust that GOD cares. Therefore, we believe that our daily welfare depends only and always upon ourselves and our own ability to accomplish. GOD takes care of heaven, we think, and we take care of ourselves.

This explains our distain for the poor -- "if they would they could be like me” -- and our unwillingness to use our income to help others -- "we must get all we can and can all we get."

Finally, within the breaking of the bread (and this is especially evident in St. Mark's account) we hear echoed forward the breaking of the bread at the last supper, which became the moment of the new covenant. 

St. John would have us know that Jesus is the true bread who came down from heaven, the true bread who provides us with life, abundant life, truly human life.

Notice how St. John is careful to tell us that this miracle occurred at the time of the passover, with all the connotations of freedom and deliverance within that memory and with all the promise of a future deliverance within that enactment. But, at the last supper Jesus recasts the meaning of the passover, deliberately applying it to himself and to his actions in the temple and on the cross.

For Jesus the passover pointed to him all along, and with his presence in the nation, he offered them the final, great fulfillment of all that GOD had promised the nation, and the world -- 

"through you all the nations of the world will be blessed."  
Said differently, in the breaking of the bread we find Jesus enacting and retelling the Hebrew's story, with the actual climax of GOD's promises coming  right then and there in the King’s victory through the cross, and not in some future as yet unknown! So that, in victory of the cross we discover, to our surprise, that we are all of us included in this story, in his story! We find in this encounter with the cross both its power and promise of restoration which GOD in Christ began in the world, and which he will actually, and finally complete one day.


JOHN 6:1-15
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
"Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
"Two hundred days?' wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.'"
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?"
Jesus said, "Have the people recline."
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
"Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted."
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
"This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.