The following is a reflection on John 6:1-21, the Gospel lesson appointed for Proper 12B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
This Gospel lesson is full of bright-and-shiny things that are impressive, and which can command attention. Jesus feeds a lot of people with only a little bit of food. A few morsels of food end up becoming baskets and baskets of leftover pieces. Jesus walks on water.
Cool stuff, right?
Because these things are so cool, one might miss the reaction of the crowds, and even the reaction of the disciples: they really have no idea what is going on.
The section starts out with mention of a large crowd that kept following Jesus.
So far, so good. We like big crowds. Would only our churches today be places where large crowds congregated at regular intervals. (Say every seven days?)
But, why are they following him?
Before you read on, think about why you follow Jesus. Why do the people in your church/ community follow Jesus? Why might you compel another person to follow Jesus?
A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
Hmmm…Jesus was doing cool things, and they wanted to see those cool things. But, heck, a lot of people can do cool things. Is that why you follow Jesus?
Would you follow Jesus even if he didn’t do cool stuff?
After the feeding (another cool thing) the people who had just eaten began to say things about Jesus. They started to identify him.
But, how would you identify Jesus? Who do you say that he is? For you? For the world?
They began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who has come into the world.”
I mean, that’s in the ballpark…but isn’t Jesus so much more?
Then, as if that isn’t enough, the crowd wants to make Jesus into something. They want to give him a role, and a title…
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
This Gospel lesson is certainly about the sign that Jesus does in feeding his people. But, it’s also about how everyone else is making Jesus into whatever they want him to be.
He’s a wonder worker! No—he’s a prophet! Wait—he’s a king!
Well…yes. But, there’s more to Jesus. He came into the world to bring God’s light, life, and love. He came to offer hope and salvation. Redemption and release. He came that everyone would believe, and receive the gifts of grace, forgiveness, and eternal life.
There is such a tendency—in biblical times and today—to fashion Jesus into the choose-your-own-messiah.
A journey of faith is harder than it looks. We so desperately want to make Jesus into our own image, or the image of our choosing—and convince ourselves that he’s on “our side” of the issues of the day.
Instead, we’re supposed to remake ourselves into Jesus’ image.
We’re to become like him…not the other way around.
In the next section of the lesson this get’s even more highlighted, after Jesus walks on water:
[the disciples] wanted to take him into the boat…
They want to take Jesus and bring him where they are…instead of going where Jesus is.
Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t they be jumping towards Jesus instead of dragging him into their boat?
Shouldn’t we be doing that?
Being God’s children, and disciples of Jesus is about going where Jesus is—even if we think we might sink—and it’s about refashioning ourselves into reflections of Christ.