“Five Barley Loaves and Two Fish”
29 July 2018
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
John 6:1-21 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=399440991)
I learned this past week
The prophet Elisha is venerated on my birthday, June 14th.
I can only imagine how life would have turned out
Had my parents named me “Elisha.”
I don’t pretend to be an Old Testament or Hebrew scholar, in general,
Or a student of Elisha, in particular,
However, I have enjoyed a romp through the first thirteen chapters of
The book of 2nd Kings this past week.
Here, the story of Elisha unfolds.
The date is approximately 892 BCE.
Elisha is a disciple and protégé of the prophet Elijah,
Who anoints him as his successor.
They worked together for four years until
Elijah was taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot.
Over the course of the next 60 years
He was known as the “Prophet of Israel.”
Elisha was known for his counsel and guidance to soldiers and kings alike.
His political intervention saved the life of King Jehoram,
Unmasked the treachery of Hazael,
Predicted the outcome of battle,
And directed the anointing of Jehu as king.
Elisha was known for his miracles;
Purifying polluted springs and making the water drinkable,
Multiplying a widow’s oil, so she could sell it and pay off her debt,
Curing Naaman of leprosy,
Raising many from the dead,
And feeding a hundred men with twenty loaves of barley, leaving some left over.
It is this miracle that caught my eye, from 2 Kings 4:42-44:
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”
I take this dive into Old Testament scripture because
It reveals essential truth about the Gospel lesson from John.
It raises the veil and partially answers the question,
“What does it mean?”
What does this narrative from John mean;
Of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and walking on water?
Consider the hungry crowd gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
They had been raised with a good Jewish education.
Most would have been faithful followers of Temple based Judaism,
Attending synagogue every Friday evening or Saturday morniung.
They would have seen in the actions of Jesus
The reenactment of the prophet Elisha’s miracle as recorded in 2 Kings 4:42-44 …
… where he fed 100 people
with twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain.
They ate, and had some left over.
Compare this with what we experience in our Gospel:
When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:12-14)
This is indeed the prophet
Who is to come into the world.
What does it mean?
Perhaps it was the premeditation of Jesus
To communicate to the crowd the truth about his full identity.
Or, perhaps it was the intention of the Gospel author of John,
To record the narrative in such a compelling way
That linked the identity of Jesus with members of the Jewish Prophetic tradition.
Either way, the message is clear:
Jesus claims his place in salvation history as one of God’s Prophets.
These are the three characteristics
That establish Jesus
As a genuine, recognized Hebrew Prophet:
· Jesus is sent by God, his heavenly Father.
· Jesus performs signs that could only come from God;
Such as turning water into wine
And teaching about the destruction of the Temple (2:11, 23).
· And Jesus exhibits knowledge that goes beyond human understanding.
(Thanks to Professor Susan Hylen for her commentary, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3720)
Miraculously multiply food to feed a hungry crowd
Was a Divine sign accomplished by a true Prophet, just like Elisha.
Jesus is genuine!
When the 5,000 see Jesus as a Prophet in the Hebrew tradition
His identity and authority is legitimatized.
It communicates an intimate Divine intention
To intervene in the world
For the benefit of humankind.
Jesus is identified directly with Yahweh,
The God of Creation,
The God of our past,
Placing God squarely in the present reality
Of 5,000 hungry people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
Looking for a free lunch.
“God is still the same God
who sought Israel through the voices of the prophets,
And now God seeks people through Jesus.”
What the Good News of the Gospel of John means, is
God takes interest in those who are hungry
And feeds the hungry with abundance.
God cares about the wellbeing of humanity.
Connect the dots:
God cares about you.
Likewise, one cannot experience the Gospel narrative
Of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and walking on the Sea of Galilee
Without stumbling on the fact that John records the timing of these events
As the Passover,
The festival of the Jews.
Passover is a celebration of God’s triumph
As recorded in the Exodus story.
Passover remembers and reaffirms
God’s salvation of Jewish ancestors from Egyptian captivity.
Like the Prophet Elisha,
John draws a parallel, supporting narrative, with the Prophet Moses.
This isn’t an effort to establish Jesus’s prophetic credentials,
As it is with the Prophet Elisha.
The Gospel has a different motive
By weaving the Passover into this miracle narrative.
The Lord instructs the congregation of Israel
How to celebrate the Passover meal,
Assuring their safety that night from destruction.
By the leadership of Moses,
God leads the congregation of Israel
Through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
To safety, security, and salvation.
Jesus celebrates a similar Passover meal,
Not associated with the end of life,
The evening before his crucifixion,
As is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke;
But John establishes the Passover meal
In the center of Christ’s life and ministry.
While Jesus washes feet in the upper room prior to his arrest and death,
John places the Eucharistic narrative here in the sixth chapter of John,
Overlooking the Sea of Galilee,
With Jesus feeding 5,000,
Multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Jesus provides food for the people;
Food that sustains,
Food in abundance,
Food that comes from God.
This is John’s account of the Eucharist:
“Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” (6:11)
What this means for John and his audience is
Passover is about life, snatched from death;
Freedom from slavery and safe passage home.
Eucharist is about life, the life and vital ministry of Jesus;
Abundant life, where all are filled by the gracious actions of a loving God.
Come to the table, our Lord invites.
Eat this bread.
Drink this cup.
And know that you are loved.
Just as the Passover meal in Egypt
Led to the escaping Hebrew slaves
Being led through the parted Red Sea
Resulting in freedom,
Does the Gospel of John follow the narrative of feeding the 5,000
With Jesus walking on the rough sea in a strong wind,
Coming to the boat filled with terrified disciples.
Jesus comes and saves them,
As sure as shooting as
God parted the Red Sea.
What is more terrifying?
Drowning when your ship goes down in the middle of a storm,
Or seeing Jesus walking on water out to your boat
To come and save you?
The walking on water stunt is additive.
Jesus is identified by one who is more than a Prophet.
Jesus is Divine;
That is, Jesus is God.
Only God has that kind of power.
Only God can pull off a miracle like that.
How is it possible to know what John means
By identifying Jesus with the additional Divine texture?
Listen to the words of Jesus.
Jesus says to his terrified disciples
“It is I; do not be afraid.”
In Exodus 3:14-15 God identifies himself as
“I AM … This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations.”
For reasons of language and translation,
“It is I” and “I AM” isn’t a perfect match,
But it’s close enough for John and for us to understand his deeper theological intent.
We are being led by the Gospel
To associate Jesus with God,
To connect the power of Jesus with the power of God,
All of which results
In the liberation and salvation of God’s people.
I keep coming back to the question for John,
“What does it mean?”
Jesus takes his place in the ancient prophetic tradition of our forefathers.
He is the connection with our roots,
The spokesperson for God’s message,
The one who acts with miraculous authority.
Jesus is yet, more than mere Prophet or king.
Only God present and dwelling with us is able to
Multiply loaves and fishes,
To walk on water in the midst of a wind whipping, perilous storm.
What does it mean?
God is with us, sustaining our daily needs.
God doesn’t merely satisfy;
God’s grace is that of abundance.
And yet, even more:
God assures us, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid.
Jesus has come to save us.
Liberation is ours.
Salvation is ours.