17th Sunday Reflection
THE ACID TEST – A QUESTION OF FAITH – (John 6:1-15)
Jesus continues his teaching about faith… ‘Amen, amen, I tell you that whoever hears my word and has faith in the one who has sent me has life in the Age, and does not come to judgement, but rather has crossed out of death into life.’ (John 5:24)… but they had neither faith in Scripture nor in the words of Jesus (John 5:27).
‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ We are told that this is a test. Jesus asks the question because he has something to teach Philip, to teach the disciples, to teach the hungry, to teach the crowds, and to teach us. This is given to us as counterpoint to Jesus working no miracles in his home town because of their lack of faith. Fear and despair, this is the destination of clinging to control that must ultimately fail us; the great illusion offered by the myth of meritocracy.
The inquiry is posed as a communal question of togetherness, of relationship, of ‘we’, that involve the disciples of Jesus with Jesus himself. The Son of God in co-operation with all of creation; Jesus with us, his disciples.
There is the question of buying; in the Aramaic world of Jesus, this is a matter of exchange taking place; something is brought and exchanged for something else. Phillip responds too quickly, just as we so often do, without fully hearing; jumping to conclusions. He complains to Jesus about how much it would cost to buy bread for such a crowd. ‘How can we buy bread for so many’?
There is perhaps a little of Phillip in all of us; mistrusting under the guise of prudence or merit. Times are bad; it won’t work; they do not deserve …and on and on; and so we fall back on the Babylonian response.
Andrew responds in a different way, by bringing the little that is available among them to Jesus; ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?’ Why bring this little to Jesus; what is on Andrew’s mind? Andrew does expect Jesus to do something with the little that is brought to him; there is some faith, some trust in the person of Jesus.
This is all that Jesus needs; Jesus does not work without us, but instead takes our little, our hunger, the merest desire, in exchange for an abundance! ‘The fruit of the earth and the work of human hands in exchange for a share in divinity!’
Jesus tells us in the question that the search is for bread, for food, nourishment for the people who have come to hear Jesus speak. There is a need, a hunger. What is this hunger; is it only physical or is there something deeper here? What is the greatest hunger in our world today?
Loneliness, being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. The words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We are made to be in relationship. It is said that we are who we are because of whom we love and whom we are loved by. In this observation, however, we see how we become the very thing that we reject and despise. When we bring this ‘evil’ into constant vision, we give that evil power in our lives. The power of Jesus in our lives is replaced by ‘lack of love’, by rejection and by antipathy.
So we hear in the gospel that Jesus: He took – He gave thanks – He gave out. The miracle simply happens because Jesus is present; because Jesus is God. John makes it clear that this miracle is a sign that points beyond itself to a higher reality. The people, of course, do not yet understand this. They are still at the level of having had their hunger satisfied in a way that cost them nothing.
When they crossed over in their boats to look for Jesus he told them plainly: ‘I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat’. It is Jesus’ great desire to lead them to understand this hunger as one only the One True God can satisfy. He wants to bring them to understand that their hunger is more for him than for bread.
There is an impulsive readiness of the people to make Jesus their king. They sensed, this man was worth claiming for themselves and they want him to be ‘their king’. However, Jesus is not about to let them settle for such a limited and one-sided relationship of control.
John takes care to tell us ‘it was shortly before the Jewish feast of the Passover.’ The multiplication of the loaves and fishes takes place in the shadow of this great Jewish feast which released them from slavery and brought them into freedom.
The miracle of the feeding of the multitude is a sign whose meaning is realized at the Last Supper which will be fully realised only in the heavenly banquet at which Jesus will feed us with the food of angels; his own self; the most intimate of all relationships.
The feeding of the five thousand shows the remarkable generosity of God and the great burning love towards us. When God gives, God gives abundantly. God gives more than we need for ourselves so that we may have something to share with others, especially those who lack what they need.
God takes the little we have and multiplies it for the good of others. Do we trust in God’s provision for us and do we share freely with others, especially those who are in need?
With Jesus the impossible becomes possible. It is that God will supply what is needed. It is that no situation is hopeless when you have Jesus. It is that Jesus is the bread of life.
Jesus always had a purpose in asking questions. It looks like this question for Philip was both a test of his faith, and a learning opportunity for him. Think about it. He would never forget this question, his answer, and what Jesus did afterwards. Do I find myself always pointing towards the darkness, the lack, the limitations and the absence of good? Jesus invites us all to come with him on a journey towards the multiplying of light and goodness in our world. If we together place our vision and our hope into the hands of Jesus, the kingdom will indeed shine as brightly as the sun.
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