Veronica Lawson rsm
27 June 2012
The gospel readings for the next five weeks are taken from John 6, a section of the gospel that focuses on food and related themes: on hungry people; on the need for food/bread; on food/bread as metaphors for life. Bread has been the staple food for millennia in bible lands. To be without bread is to lack the very basics of existence, and that is how it is for so many in our world. People in Syria, Afghanistan, Gaza, West Papua, Timor Leste, and so many African countries know what it means to be without the means of subsistence in a world of plenty. The present cycle of readings is timely. It confronts us with questions about our own lifestyle, our exploitation of the earth’s precious resources, and our capacity to make a positive change in the lives of those whose access to the fruits of our earth is much more limited than ours.
In John’s account of the feeding of the 5000, the crowds keep following Jesus because they see the signs he works among the sick. The Johannine Jesus consistently tries to lead the people beyond a form of discipleship that is simply based on seeing ‘the signs’ that he works. The inadequacy of the crowd’s response on this occasion becomes clear towards the end of the reading.
The geographical setting of ‘the mountain’ evokes the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. For the crowds, Jesus is the prophet like Moses who provides sustenance for the hungry in the wilderness of life. The temporal setting is Passover, ‘the feast of the Jews’, which recalls the passing over of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the desert and ultimately of the land where they could worship their God. This story is about the liberation that Jesus brings.
Jesus demonstrates to the crowds and to his disciples that the answer to the suffering of the people, their liberation, is to be found in their care for each other. If they will only take the time to sit down together, discover the riches in their midst, give thanks, and distribute what they have, they may find there is more than is needed to satisfy their own hunger.
They must gather up the fragments, the ‘more-than-enough’ so that nothing will be lost: they are not the only ones who hunger.
They partially understand who he is and what he is trying to teach them, but their ultimate response is misdirected, even violent: they want to take him by force and make him king.
He leaves them and returns to the mountain alone, the place of encounter with God. We so often seek spectacular solutions to our problems. It may be that we too need to sit down together on the grass, or wherever, and discover the wealth we have at our disposal to satisfy the hungers in our world.