30 July, 2012

Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (B) 2012

John 6:1-21 (cf. Mark 6:30-44)
 
This year’s lectionary is supposed to focus on St Mark’s gospel and yet from today and for the next three weeks the lectionary bids us to lay Mark aside, and examine a series of consecutive passages from the St John 6. How so? Well, some people have come to think of John’s gospel as some kind of "liturgical padding", used to make the other gospels last for longer in the year. But don’t be fooled by this. John is often used in the same way one would use a very powerful ingredient in your cooking, and used in special circumstances. Only the Fourth gospel can give us certain insights and flavours, if you will, about Jesus which the other evangelists cannot.
 
Today is a good example of this concept. The narrative opens with the miraculous feeding of the five thousands and then moves on to describe how Jesus walked on the waters to meet the Twelve who were in peril on the Sea. The feeding of the five thousands is present in Mark’s gospel but John’s description of this miraculous event is curiously different and it is given here to teach us something about Jesus which is not highlighted in Mark.
 
John constructs the scene slightly differently from Mark. For Mark Jesus is in the desert, in a barren place, while for John He is on a mountain, a fertile one, with a great deal of grass (John 6:10).
Mark does not give a specific indication of the time of the year; whilst John puts this event in direct relation with the Jewish Passover meals and with the Passover sacrifices.
 
In the Mark’s gospel the disciples come up to Jesus to make him aware of the situation. 
When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat’ (Mark 6:35-36).  
Whilst in our story we read that when Jesus 
looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do (John 6:5-6). 

For John Christ is in complete control of the situation; He is the one that, knowing what he was going to do (John 6:6), prompts the disciples to cooperate in his miracle, even though they didn’t seem to know quite what was going on at the time. For Mark it is the Twelve who distribute the food to the people; while for John Jesus makes the people sit down with the help of his disciples, and then He himself proceeds to feed them as much as they want.
 
At this point the actions of Jesus are described in a way that the Early Church would have recognised as the ones performed at the celebration of the Eucharist even though they do not reflect exactly the ones described by the other evangelists. Thus it is clear that John is trying to tell us something that goes beyond the simple reportage, the cold account of the miracle.
Being different is a characteristic typical of John, but not for difference’ sake; rather in order to carefully tell us something about Jesus.
 
The mountain, the great deal of grass, the relation to the Passover sacrifice, the Jesus’ pivotal role, Jesus’ actions… The crowd see his work even more readily than the Twelve and recognise in it the fulfilment of the words spoken by the ancient prophets. John is telling us that Jesus is indeed the Messiah who is ushering in the dwelling of God among mortals. He is the same Christ who still approaches his disciples today and invites them to cooperate in his miracle; in the work he is doing in the world.
The plentiful, miraculous meal shared on a mountain speaks to the people of God about heaven and about the feast shared by all on the mountain of God at the end of all things. As we will see in the coming weeks, it also speaks of Jesus giving himself in the Eucharist.

Today’s reading forms the back story for the passages we will explore in the coming weeks; therefore I would encourage you all to read the whole of John 6 in your personal time of prayer during the coming days.

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