May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In this passage, thousands were fed with little resources up front. The text is not clear how the food gets multiplied, only that there were 12 baskets left over and they started with just a few loaves and fish. Speculators have wondered over the years how this passage is explained. Those who want to, believe in the miracle of multiplication. Those who do not want to ascribe miraculous power to Jesus claim compassion was unleashed and the example of the boy sharing what he had caused others to do likewise. Personally, I don’t see them as being mutually exclusive.
What is clear is this: Jesus causes everyone’s hunger to be satisfied and twelve baskets of leftovers are collected. One commentator draws this conclusion from such a feat: “leftovers – both food and people – are neither insignificant nor abandoned.” (Robert A. Bryant, Feasting on the Word Commentary)
The commentator, Robert A. Bryant, says for the Gospel writer, this revelatory story and its partner story, Jesus walking on the water, unveil key aspects of Jesus’ divine character and purpose, and that was the point of John paring them together in the first place. Let’s look at the immediate context.
Just prior to our passage for today, Jesus is confronted in Jerusalem by the Jewish leaders who sought to kill him because he healed on the Sabbath and called God his Father. By contrast, here the people have been following him because they want to see more of his miraculous healing power. Ultimately, they want to make him King by force, but he, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, slips away, for the people do not yet fully understand.
In the evening, the disciples leave and head back across the sea. They see Jesus walking over the water, coming near, and they call out. Jesus responds with the traditional divine self-identification “ego eimi,” “It is I,” or “I Am,” a key self-identifying phrase clearly connected to the other “I Am” statements in John, which echo back to God’s own revelatory statement to Moses on the mountaintop so long ago. He tells the disciples, “do not fear.” Then, as John records it, they wanted to take Jesus into the boat but instead what happens is they immediately reach the land toward which they had been headed.
Here in John there is no record of Peter getting out of the boat and walking toward Jesus. Here, there is no record of the storm suddenly becoming calm. Here, John simply tells us Jesus responded to their need “do not fear;” thus bestowing calm within them. Then, they reach their destination.
My question for you is this: Where are you in this story? Individually and as a community of faith, who or whom do you most identify with? Are you one of the thousands of hungry following Jesus around who just want to be fed or healed? Are you like the disciples, trying to learn and understand how he finds enough food for the multitudes? Or, do you locate yourself further along in the story, perhaps when the disciples are rowing across the sea and see Jesus walking on the water. Water which, I might add, represents “tahom,” the chaos of the deep, in Jewish thought. And Jesus somehow rises above all that and walks upon it – not to mention he stills their fear as it surrounds them on all sides and somehow they reach shore immediately.
If you have found what part in the story you identify most with, my next challenge for you is this: I would urge you to think about what Jesus did for the disciples. He proclaimed who he was, he calmed their fears, and he responded to their need. We are now the body of Christ in the world…go and do likewise.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.