The Bread of Life Part I – Eighth Sunday after Trinity 2012

For the next few weeks the Lectionary asks us to read the whole of John chapter 6. It’s a long and well-known exploration of “Jesus the Bread of Life”. John begins with two stories familiar from the other gospels, and then goes on to develop his discussion. Today we begin the stories, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and a “Storm on the Lake” story.

I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that little story from 2 Kings, the prophet Elisha making 20 loaves sufficient to feed 100 hungry prophets. Whatever relationship that story has with the gospel stories of Jesus going one better, it reminds us of a persistent Bible theme, God the feeder of the hungry. In any society where starvation is only one or two bad harvests away, the provision of food has a real appeal; and it is the conviction of the Old Testament that God is a generous supplier of all our needs, over and above what we might expect. Not just a little, not just enough, not just till we’re satisfied, but there are leftovers as well.

However, it is not Elisha that John wants to evoke, but Moses. We are told that the story takes place at Passover. Jesus, like a new Moses, brings his people out into the desert where they are fed miraculously; collecting up the fragments evokes the collecting of the manna. And John tells us of the crowd’s reaction – “this is that Prophet (like Moses) who was to come”. And they want to make him king; but Jesus hides himself.

Those who know the story will recognise something else here. They will recall another Passover when the issue of Jesus as King of the Jews will feature. The shadow of the Cross falls across the story. We are being prepared in a way for the climax of the gospel. But there is another sense in which the Cross makes its  impact; for it makes us rethink what Jesus is all about. The crowd have misread the sign of the loaves; just as they have misread Jesus.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic wand that would turn our little resources into abundance? If we were being called to luxurious leisure? “Be a christian and all will go well with you”. This so-called Prosperity Gospel has its followers, but John is not one of them. The gospel is more about giving all, like the young lad with his loaves and fishes, than about getting all we want.

So John tells another story, of the disciples rowing for dear life through a dark stormy night, scared out of their wits, wondering if they’ll survive. And they do, and Jesus encourages them and gets them through; but John is clearly saying that this is more what we are called to. This is a Cross story; and, as will appear in the following discussion, it is not a prospect that appeals to all.

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