Students are given the chance at Nashotah House to preach in the regular course of chapel services. Our morning homilies are supposed to be about three to five minutes long, hence the short length of this homily.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have heard the difference between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry divided thus: Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us what Jesus did. John tells us who Jesus is. It’s simplistic, and I think overly so. In this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus does something. But then after he does it, he tells us who he is, in one of his “I am” statements.
In this morning’s reading, Jesus goes over the Sea of Galilee, and a multitude follows him. What else is new? People need to eat, it’s the Feast of the Passover, and there are so many of them that not even two hundred day’s wages would be enough to feed them. So Jesus takes the loaves of bread and he gives thanks (he’s already lifted his eyes up to heaven) and he distributes the loaves of bread. He does the same thing with the fish. Everyone gets their fill.
There are some wildly disparate ways of understanding what happens in this first part of John 6. You could perhaps think that Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish with some extra that he has stowed away somewhere. He’s a good Jew and an even better prepper. There’s the ever-popular idea that all Jesus really did was encourage everyone and so inspire them to share the food they had. Wandering Carpenters from Nazareth might have had a bad economic year, so maybe Jesus was practicing his skills as a community organizer.
But…What if it really was a miracle? What if Jesus really did turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to sustain the Five Thousand? What if he really did feed them all by his own power? Maybe later on, in verse 35, he’s not crazy like the Jews think he is, when he says, “I am the bread of life.”
I wonder if Jesus is doing something here which relates directly to who he is, to who he says he is. Perhaps what Jesus is doing… is feeding the multitude, giving them bread to make present what he is about to tell them. What if this miracle of feeding the people is Jesus’ way of prefiguring what he’ll say the next day, when he identifies Himself as the Bread of Life. What if, contrary to those who say it can’t be a miracle, Jesus is teaching the people that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life… that He himself is that which will sustain them in the time to come.