Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning we are beginning five weeks in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John. Five weeks may seem like a long time to spend in one chapter of a gospel, but this is John! Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke—John’s gospel is focused less on what Jesus does and more on who Jesus is, and his relationship with God the father. This is especially true in this chapter.
The story of the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle that is in all four gospels. But notice that John uses the word sign instead of miracle, when referring Jesus acts of healing, and today feeding 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. We will hear more about this sign throughout this chapter, as well as other signs in John’s gospel. A sign is something that points to something else, and, for John, the signs all point to Jesus’s close relationship with God.
Did you notice that John mentions that the time of Passover was near? Passover was the celebration of the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt. So, Jesus feeding so many with bread might remind folks of the time when God fed the people with manna in the desert. Jesus does what God had done in the desert, which is a sign of the closeness between them. That is what the focus of this chapter of John is all about. Jesus’s signs show that he comes from God. We will hear, further on, Jesus say that he and God are one.
Unfortunately, the people see a different sign. They see Jesus as “Truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” Jesus sees that they have missed the point. They see the bread and fish as a sign that they want to see. The people have been suffering under Roman occupation for many years. We hear about the Romans in all the gospels and the epistles too. This was a harsh and oppressive occupation. The people were burdened with taxes, and their freedom has been lost. So maybe it makes sense that they see Jesus, who can provide bread for 5000 out of five loaves as an earthly king, one who can defeat the Romans and expel them from the land. We know that Jesus is there to do something far greater through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. All people will come to know the power of God's love. But Jesus knows what the crowds have in mind. So, he escapes back up the mountain by himself.
I'm not sure why the disciples decide to cross the Sea of Galilee, especially since they either didn’t notice—or forgot to take Jesus with them—and head out in a boat to the other side without him. A wind comes up and the disciples are struggling to get to the other shore, when Jesus comes toward them walking on the water. There are several “walking on water” stories in the gospels. They all show Jesus having command over the forces of nature. But in this case this sign is again pointing to Jesus as one who saves.
We can relate to the disciples in this story, because we are in uncertain waters once again with this pandemic. Just as the disciples are struggling to get where they need to be, we are struggling too. We are struggling with an ongoing pandemic which seems to be changing rapidly, and is once again escaping our ability to get it under control.
This journey we are on is much like the disciples’ struggle. The disciples were experienced fishermen, used to the unpredictable behavior of the sea. But this sudden storm is baffling them. We like to believe that our scientific skills are up to the task of finding a way to control this virus. But we too are struggling with getting ahead of the delta variant of COVID. Sometimes it feels like we are about to lose the fight.
But notice what happens to the disciples when they see Jesus. When they are focused on Jesus, the storm calms and they reach their destination. When we focus on Jesus, and what God calls us to do—love our neighbors as ourselves, all our neighbors—we too may yet see the end of this mess. If only we can all focus on God's unending love for us in the person of Jesus, we will have the strength to work together and support each other through this very hard time. Amen.