INTRO: We are exploring John’s Gospel, the Gospel of the ‘Signs’. Having explored the ‘sign of glory’ that evokes the New Covenant in the Marriage Feast of Cana, we then reflected upon the Healing of the Royal Official’s son – the Sign that Jesus brings us New Life and Wholeness by the power of His Word. We then reflected upon the third Sign – the Healing of the lame man by the Pool – which suggested Baptism as transformation – a healing that sets off bitter conflict with the Jewish authorities. And today we will examine the Fourth Sign: the great 6th Chapter of John – the Feeding of the 5000 followed by Jesus’ discourse on the Word and the Eucharist.

[1] Return to Galilee – Feeding of 5000 – Fourth Sign (John 6: 1-15), followed by discourse on Word and Eucharist – the Word made Flesh (John 6: 22-71). Jesus is back in familiar territory – by the Sea of Galilee (as it is called in Matthew and Mark), Lake Gennasaret in Luke – John also calls it the Sea of Tiberias, a name acquired later in the 1st cent as Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great)  built on its shores a great city (an administrative capital) named in honour of the Roman Emperor who appointed him as ruler of Galilee. Around this Lake was Capernaum, Peter’s home, Bethsaida, Magdala – and Nazareth was nearby. It was a centre for the fishing industry and a trade route from Egypt to Syria. And of course there were soldiers and administrators (the Royal Official’s son!). A busy place and the centre of much of Jesus’ ministry or preaching and healing. So 5000 people gathering might not be an exaggeration!

[2] It was Passover, John tells us – when popular belief expected the Messiah to come to liberate them from their enemies, their oppressors (the Romans and Herod, and for some the corrupt Temple leadership). It was also believed that this Messiah would like Moses before lead the people into the wilderness and give them once again ‘Manna from heaven’.  The crowds were draw to Jesus because ‘they were impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick’ (John 6: 2). Jesus teaches them from the hillside – again like Moses at Sinai. Then, typical of John’s Gospel, Jesus takes the initiative – ‘where shall we buy bread for this crowd?’, while knowing what He was really going to do. A small boy brings a ‘lunch packet to share! The apostles dismiss this paltry contribution – Jesus does not! When we give out of our poverty, Divine Grace always multiplies! Then Jesus ‘gives thanks’ (the Greek is ‘eucharistein’ echoing of course the Eucharist given at the final Passover, the Last Supper), Jesus gives the bread and fish (John 6: 11), like he gives His Body and Blood. Then the twelve hampers of scraps are collected – the Eucharist is ‘bread for the journey’ and the life-giving Word of the Apostolic Mission to Proclaim the Good News.

[3] The crowd recognises the Sign, sees in Jesus a new Moses, a Prophet, a Messiah King (John 6: 14-15) – all true, but Jesus redefines each and cannot be ‘captured’ by the peoples desire for a National Liberator! He escapes to the hills! Jesus is more than Moses, for He liberates not just one nation but the whole world (and brings a new Law that is more than Law – Love)! He is more than a Prophet, because He is the Word made Flesh! He is more than a national King, because He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and washes feet and mounts the throne of a Cross and is crowned with thorns of the worlds pain. Genuine, divine power is not force and dominance but the magnetic and liberating attraction of Love. He brings what no other can – the liberation of the human heart that in turn can liberate the world of oppression and injustice.

[4] Jesus walks on the lake (John 6: 16-20). This is an ‘epiphany’ story – the manifestation of Jesus’ divinity – only God walks upon the waters and controls the storms; ‘It is I. Do not be afraid’ – God constant call to humanity – ‘do not be afraid’ – recorded 365 times in the Bible! Also ‘It is I’ – or ‘I am’, first of the ‘Yah’, ‘I am’, sayings such a theme in John and causing those who come to arrest him in the Garden to fall to the ground (John 18: 5). This passage, situated at Passover time and with the Eucharistic overtones of  the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, evokes Moses parting the waters and leading the Hebrew slaves through the Sea of Reeds into freedom.

[5] Jesus discourse on ‘Bread from Heaven’ (John 6: 22-71) The people have seen the sign, yet do not recognise its full significance. They do not recognise that he has given them the expected sign of the Messiah (a new bread from heaven, a new Manna – John 6: 31) – perhaps confused that he escaped from them and refused to be made a Warrior King – also part of their Messianic expectation. He then speaks of the True Bread from Heaven – the Word He speaks, the Word the Father has given Him to speak to the world, the Word He is! Jesus is the Word, He is the Bread from Heaven, given by the Father. “I am the Bread of Life’ Another of the Johannine  Jesus ‘I Am’ sayings (John 6: 36) – in His Word, as in His Eucharist,  we encounter the utter reality of God, the gift of the Divine.

[6] At Mass we ‘break the Bread of the Word’ before ‘Breaking the Bread of the Eucharist’. Bread and wine are consecrated, transformed into the Crucified and Risen Christ to be our food and drink – by the most intense Proclamation of the Word in the Power of the Spirit – the ‘epiclesis’ (prayer invoking the Spirit with the laying on of hands) and the ‘institution narrative’ – the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper. Sacrament is the most intense Proclamation of the Word in the power of the Spirit. Just as in the creation story in Genesis, in the Annunciation to Mary, in the Baptism of the Lord and in the His Transfiguration on the mountain, the Word is spoken and the Spirit overshadows to achieve God’s creative and recreative purpose. The Eucharist is the re-creation of the things of creation (bread and wine), transforming them into Christ. The Eucharist is the anticipation and pledge, the sign and servant of the Eschaton – the moment when all creation is filled with the utter fulness of Christ – ‘Now I make the whole of creation New’ (Rev 21: 5) … ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21: 1)

[7] ‘Thebread that I shall give is My flesh, for the life of the world’ (John 6: 51). With these words, the Johannine community proclaims its faith in the ‘real presence’ of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist and goes on to speak of the life-giving ‘function’ of the Eucharist we celebrate. It is real food, real drink, transforming us into the Body of Christ in today’s world: true for them in First Century Asia Minor – true for us in 21st Century Bristol or wherever. As Paul says: ‘I live now, not I but Christ lives in me!’ and ‘my real life is hidden in Christ’.

[8] ‘This is intolerable language’ (John 6: 60) and ‘You have the message of eternal life’ (John 6: 68). This great teaching on Word and Eucharist concludes with a division – those  who can believe and those who will not. Ultimately, belief in the Eucharist is also belief in Jesus Christ, Risen and alive among us, transforming us in His own Body. 


AFTERWORD What signs are we offering the world that Jesus is Risen and a New World is being created? Are we a community characterised by our love for another (Marriage Feast)? Are we a healing community, a Field Hospital parish where the broken, hurting, despairing and wounded know they can come, find unconditional welcome, be held, healed and become more whole and human (The Official’s son)? Do we have the courage to risk reputation and respectability to become counter-cultural in serving and healing, to ‘break the rules’ when Divine Compassion bids us (the lame man by the pool)? Are we as the people of Word and Eucharist, the broken bread, breaking bread of hope and food and justice with the hungry of our area and our world (Feeding the Five Thousand)? Are we a community of the Signs of Christ alive among us?

Leave a Reply