Homily preached by Br. Andrew e.f.o. at Springwood on Sunday 26th July 2015
9th Sunday after Pentecost Year.B
Gospel John 6: 1-21
John 6:14 "After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world."
Elisha, his name means "God is Salvation" son of Shaphat, was a prophet from Abel Meholah in Gilead. He lived in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Jehoash. During his prophetic lifetime he performed many miracles that rivaled Christ himself; on this occasion Elisha fed 100 people with 20 loaves of barley and some ears of grain and with some to spare. In contrast we have the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was the first appointment in the year designated by God for the Jews to meet with Him in a holy convocation, it occurred the week prior to Passover.
John has chosen to place his account of the feeding of the 5000 during this combination of Holy days. (John 6:4 “Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.")
Jesus makes what Matthew Henry calls a Coasting voyage to Bethsaida (Luke 9:10) where despite his weariness he continues to heal and to preach to the people until evening.
It is important, to note that this is the only miracle reported by all four gospel writers, though John is the only one to mention the more intimate facts which bring this event alive to us -such as the matter that the 5 barley loaves and 2 fish were brought to Andrew by a little lad or paidarion—, probably one that used to follow the crowd, as settlers do the camps, with their eatables to sell, and the disciples had bought what he had for themselves, coarse barley bread and fish rather than the finest wheat.
Whereas the other Gospels record the disciples suggesting to Jesus that he send the crowd away to buy food and find lodging. Here in John’s account Jesus asks Philip, by name, WHERE they are to buy enough food to feed everyone, yet Philip’s response refers not to the where but to the COST of it as though the group purse could not meet the task, yet we already suppose the provisions to be theirs. Jesus already knows what he will do.
And so what I suspect is the largest picnic ever attended get underway.
The grass is plentiful there and sits at the base of the hillside upon which Jesus was overseeing the proceedings, the disciples are instructed to have the men recline in groups of 50, and we are told that 5,000 of them are seated in this way – only Matthew’s Gospel draws our attention to the presence of women and children (Matthew14:21), making the number many more thousands than the five mentioned.
Although the group is huge, it represents a family gathered for a meal, a family communioning together. Jesus took the loaves and blessed them and gave them to the disciples to distribute and likewise the fish until all were served and when everyone had eaten enough the scraps were gathered up to fill 12 baskets..
John introduces this miraculous meal to us as the first Holy Communion, or in rephrasing that, in the interval between the miracle and this gospel, about 90 years of Christian living had transpired to bring John to deliberately place his account of it during the 3rd Passover of Jesus' ministry for the wealth of symbolism recognizable to both Jewish and Gentile Christians.
The Barley was the first of the cereal grains to ripen and at the Harvest Festival, before Passover was offered in the Temple as first fruits. Jesus had just offered the first fruits to his Father and given them to the crowd that all might eat and be filled. Since the disciples had acted in loci Eucharistic Ministers we might suppose that each collected a basket of the left over bread and fish – somehow symbolic of the 12 tribes, abundance for Israel?
In his time with us Jesus ministered to the marginalized and how many of them must have been here in this crowd? The smaller groups gave many the opportunity to rub shoulders with different sorts of people and may have reminded later Christians of the Home churches which sprung up quite soon after the Resurrection. Even of Pentecost, the birth of the Church which would occur about 57 days later.
To sustain so many of those on the margins of society a prelude to another Passover when Jesus would offer himself as First Fruits.
The Fish has been suggested as the representation of the Church, being the secret sign by which early Christians found each other so that in feeding the multitude with bread and fish Jesus was both giving Himself and the Church to them in a Holy Communion. Holy Communion is a conversation, a Communication between God and the Church or God and the Body of Christ which this event certainly was.
Alternately taking the anagram ichthys:- (ΙΧΘΥΣ), the Greek word for fish and we have - Jesus Christ, God's son and our Saviour, such that at that first Holy Communion Jesus gave himself to the 5000 as Son of God and their Saviour who is the Bread of Life.
The readings for the next two weeks follow this one giving us the controversial groundwork for the development of the Latin and Greek understandings of the nature of the blessing Jesus gives to the bread and the wine.
Some of those present at that time understood that a man like Jesus just might be a suitable military Messiah. They sought to make him King but he slipped through the crowd and went into the hills to pray.
Soon we shall partake of the Holy Communion, as we do so let us make it a prayerful conversation, a Communication between ourselves who are the Body of Christ and the Lord who gives us His mysterious Food for our Spiritual nourishment.