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How did Jesus deal with stupid questions? Stunningly….

April 16, 2013

The crowd just don’t get the meaning of what Jesus is teaching them. It’s John 6:22-35                                      (a weekday homily for Tuesday 16 April 2013).

All this week the gospel readings are taken from Chapter 6 of Saint John’s gospel. I’m going to take a closer look at what Jesus said in the gospel we heard yesterday and today, that’s verses 22 to 35 of Chapter 6. The subject is the Lord as life-giving bread.

Let’s first get ourselves into the right circumstances to getter a better understanding of what is going on here. We’re in Galilee, and at the beginning of Chapter 6 we hear how Jesus had been preaching to and enormous crowd on the hillside, ending with a miraculous feeding of 5,000 men plus their families. The reaction of the people to this miracle is not welcomed by Jesus, who realises that they were planning to take Him prisoner and proclaim Him their king. So Jesus makes off into the hills, leaving behind both the crowd and His disciples. The key message here is that the people did not understand the true meaning of what Jesus was teaching them. They are focused on the here and now, this world. They want a king; they want food. They have not understood the spiritual message of Jesus’ teaching.

The disciples, no doubt a little bemused and confused, decide to set sail and return home without Jesus. But they get caught in a storm, and this is when the miracle of Jesus walking across the water to save them takes place. Another miracle. Meanwhile, the crowd searching for Jesus has been left on the wrong side of the lake: the crowd knows that the disciples have set sail, so they follow in some boats that have just arrived from Tiberius. But where should they go? They know that Jesus and His disciples are based in the town of Capernaum, and this is indeed where they catch up with Jesus. They find Him in the synagogue teaching, and they are mystified as to how He had got there. They ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” WHEN.

Does it not strike you that this is rather a strange question? They’ve heard Jesus preaching, they’ve been miraculously fed up in the hills, word is going round that Jesus has been seen walking on water….. and they’re more interested in finding out when He got back to Capernaum. Perhaps they want to try and put things in time order, to try and make sense of the strange events they’re witnessing.

Look, I’ve mentioned this to you before. Miracles all have something in common. They are all occasions when God chooses to manipulate time. The crowd’s question is about WHEN something happened. It is pointing, although they don’t realise it, to the fact that we humans on earth are trapped in time, our whole understanding is limited by the concept of time. But God is NOT limited by time constraints. Hunger is ultimately related to the time since the body last received food; and the amount of food we have available to eat depends on how long the plants and animals food sources take to grow, and then how long it takes to gather the food, to prepare it and serve it. If you are master of time, you can easily satisfy the time limited needs of 5,000 hungry people. You can change water into wine instantly, without the usual wait; and you can easily walk on water – to sink under the waves takes time, admittedly a very short time, but if you are divine and outside of time, you needn’t sink. Strange ideas aren’t they!

And Jesus simply ignores their question, because He knows that have got the wrong end of the stick. He tells them that they weren’t looking for Him because He is from God; they are more interested in being given more food! He knows what they are really thinking about. So Jesus tries to get them to think about heavenly things rather than earth-bound things. What Jesus says to them is basically ‘Don’t spend all your energy chasing round after me for things that will not last. You’ll be wasting your time.’

At last the crowd seem to be tuning in to things spiritual rather that simply physical needs, because they then ask a very sensible question:

‘So what is it that we must do to please God?’

Jesus says it’s not about doing anything, it’s about faith, it’s about believing in Him.

And then they ask, “How do you propose to convince us that we should believe in you? How about something to prove you’re the real thing?

Oh dear, they are going off on the wrong track again. They want some sort of human leader like Moses. And Jesus says something stupendous. And He starts with those familiar words, “I tell you most solemnly….” That means, ‘Now listen very carefully, because what I’m about to say is very important….’

It was not Moses who GAVE you bread from heaven, it is my Father who GIVES you the bread from heaven.

We’re back to the same theme. God transcends time. Do note how Jesus deliberately changes the tenses – referring to Moses and manna from heaven in the past tense, switching to God, MY FATHER in the present tense. Jesus is very publicly telling people that God is present, here and now, and that He, Jesus, is the Son of God.

To those people in the synagogue in Capernaum, including the disciples, this teaching did not seem to make sense. They knew they were on to something special, something mysterious and something new, but they couldn’t understand it. That deeper understanding only came after the disciples were indeed given a sign – the Resurrection – that convinced them beyond all doubt that Jesus was God.

And it is because of their faith and teaching that we are now able to understand the tremendous theological meaning of Jesus being the ‘Bread of Life’. At and that point it is very timely that we should now move together towards sharing in Holy Communion, which we are privileged to receive through our belief, our faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Bread of Life.

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