MESSAGE: 9th Sunday after PENTECOST B 25th July 2021
Today’s readings are full of apparent contradictions:
faith and sin
acceptance and rejection
strength and weakness
fullness and emptiness.
Yet every shameful deed lamented by the psalmist is offset by God’s deliverance.
If King David was truly that same psalmist, who could know this truth more intimately than the one who had an infamous affair with Bathsheba?
Contrast his loathsome selfishness with the incredible selflessness of Jesus, who transformed a meal sufficient for only a few into a feast for five thousand.
This is what Paul speaks of as the redemptive power of God’s love, the power to abundantly achieve far more than anything we might ask for or understand.
For the past few weeks we have been reading Mark, now the lectionary takes us into John. In his gospel, John narrates seven miraculous acts by Jesus and he names them–“signs.”
He sees these signs as a special revelation about Jesus and in each, the believer is brought close to the all powerful and resurrected Lord.
We not only witness a miraculous deed performed by Jesus, but through the sign we are invited to step closer for a more thorough reflection on what it says about Jesus.
The signs John tells us helps those with eyes of faith to see and to believe in Jesus in the ways each sign reveals him to us.
Remember what John said towards the end of his gospel. He states his purpose for writing quite clearly, “Jesus performed many other signs as well, signs not recorded here, in the presence of his disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith, you may have life in his name” (20: 30-31).
We now focus on one of these signs so that in “seeing” it we might grow in faith. Today we have the sign of the multiplication, this is intended to lead us to reflect upon Jesus as the Bread of Life sent down from God.
A large crowd has sought Jesus out. Unlike the other gospels, John doesn’t say that Jesus expresses pity for the hungry crowd or that they are like lost sheep without a shepherd.
Instead, Jesus opens with a question to Philip about where “we” will get enough food for the approaching crowd. John tells us quite plainly, Jesus is “testing” his disciples. The story has us focus on how the disciples will respond to this test and what Jesus’ own response will be.
The disciples evaluate their small resources and what will be required of them and then express incredulity, “how are we going to feed them?” They are not blind or indifferent to the needs around and they seem to want to address them, but just can’t figure out how they will do it. It is just too much for them.
Jesus is also looking at the same hunger and he takes charge. The problem for Jesus was that in his compassion he reached out to help people in their needs: he healed them and gave them food and drink, but he always did these things as a sign of something greater, something higher to which he was calling people.
More often than not, people missed the higher message, they just wanted to have their needs satisfied in the easiest possible way. They tended to seek him out as a magical healer and not hear the call to expansion and growth that he was making to them.
We see needs around us and we go to God for those needs to be met.
The Lord’s response was to throw the ball back to the disciples by saying, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13). The Lord knew what He was going to do but He said this to test them (John 6:6).
The Lord does the same with us. He wants us to consider what our response will be to the need around us. Unfortunately, we are no different from the disciples. We are able to see the need and we come to God and hand over the crisis to Him. We think that it is now for God to solve the problem.
We do not see that God has placed us in a situation in order to see, if we are willing to release the resources that we have, into God’s hands for Him to work out the miracle (Numbers 11:21-23). God’s hand is never too short to save. Twelve baskets of fragments were gathered after all had eaten their full (Luke 9:17).
Praise God for the little boy in this situation (John 6:8-9). He somehow became aware of the emergency and immediately saw the resource in his little hands. Importantly, he was willing to release his modest resource and make it available for God to use.
The disciples, too, had resources in their hands which is why the Lord gave them a hint and an opportunity to release their resource into His hands (Luke 9:13). The disciples considered the task of going and buying food for the people as a weak option (John 6:7) but aren’t we just the same? We look at the need around us and then measure the resource at our disposal and then decide that the need can never be met with what we have. Imagine if the little boy had kept back his lunch as a meagre resource in comparison to the enormity of the crisis.
The little lad did not look at the little that he had and compare it against the need; rather his eyes were on Jesus. He had placed his trust on Jesus. The disciples were not seeing Jesus but were doing the comparison. As long we keep working out the comparisons in life, we will never understand and experience faith in Jesus.
The Lord desires for us to adorn the gift of giving (Proverbs 11:24-25, Luke 6:38, I Timothy 6:17-19, Isaiah 58:7-8), which is His nature.