"GOD’S ABUNDANT PRESENCE"
2 Kings 4:42-44
In times of unrest and strangeness, it is good to have things in our lives that remain consistent. One such thing is the cycle of weekly Bible readings called the Lectionary. Every third year, we have the same set of readings each Sunday, and we work our way through the Bible.
From now through the entire month of August, our Gospel lessons in worship will come from John, chapter 6. Not only is this a relatively long chapter— 71 verses— but, by the time its story is told, (verse 66) “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” You’d better believe, something big is going on in this chapter !
The first lesson, which we will hear this coming Sunday, will be familiar to you— Jesus feeding a large crowd of people with only five little loaves of bread plus two fishes. This is the only miracle of Jesus that is told in all four of our Gospels (see also Matthew 14, Mark 6 and 8, and Luke 9)... although John calls the event a “sign.” Looking closely at a story about Jesus in the four Gospels is like working a puzzle. It reveals much about the interests and points of view of the various writers, when one notices what one author puts in but another leaves out.
It is not very difficult to lay out Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John side by side and compare the versions of this story. In fact, in the church office, we have a book which does just that, with Matthew, Mark, and Luke (It was a gift to the church library from Rev. and Mrs. Helsabeck, Christmas, 1975). And now, with word processors and copying-and-pasting, the task of doing this kind of project for oneself has been made fairly easy.
Just for fun, can you find the answers to the following questions in John 6:1-21 ?
1. Who first notices that the crowd is hungry?
2. Who first discusses with Jesus what needs to be done about the hungry crowd ?
3. Who has the five loaves and two fishes ?
4. Who distributes the food to the crowd ?
5. How do the people react once they have been
OK... IF you enjoyed that exercise... try it again with the story as it is found in Matthew 14, or Mark 6 or 8, or Luke 9. I don’t know about you, but I find this quite interesting.
The last question above ties into something that was pointed out to me in a class I took on Leadership and Administration. Just before this story of the feeding of the multitudes in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are told directly that King Herod (son of the King Herod who killed the babies of Bethlehem when Jesus was born) had beheaded John the Baptizer. In John 5, Jesus refers to John the baptizer in the past tense— “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice a while in his light.” (John 5:35) Next thing you know, Jesus is performing a mighty sign of his divine power, feeding a crowd of thousands from only a few small loaves and a few fish. After this, Matthew and Mark say that Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee]. But it is John which gives us a clue as to why Jesus made the disciples go away from the well-fed crowds: “Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.” (John 6:15)
A number of considerations must have been on Jesus’ mind at this time. One, his friend John the baptizer had just been killed by the ruler of that territory. This would have made him and his disciples sad. But, further, it left anyone who had followed John free to turn and follow a new leader. Yet Jesus’ disciples were at this stage of their training often confused, to the point of being clueless, about so many things: “What was the role of John the baptizer ?” “Who is Jesus, really?”
It must have been clear to Jesus that his disciples were not ready to handle the hero- worship of the crowds... so he packed them off in the boat.
Look at what happens in our world today, when crowds turn to any human being and worship her or him as a hero on a pedestal: Who can handle earthly power ?
And how are we at administering the power of God?
“I pray that you may have the power
so that you may be filled
with all the fullness of God.”
- Ephesians 3:18, 19