July 29th: “What Can We Do?”

Some might rationalize around the miracle in this week’s Gospel passage as generous sharing or appetizer-sized portions or assign the miracles as only signifying Jesus as succeeding Moses, and thus not relevant now. But what possibilities are we over looking today?

This Week’s Passage: John 6:1-15

I. Establish the text

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 This puts Jesus on the eastern or southern shore of Galilee.

2 How did the crowd follow? by boat? Or did they walk? The determination of the crowd attests to Jesus authority.

3 This may indicate an opportunity to teach the disciples. Teachers at that time sat down to teach. Verse 6 would then be in a context of a lesson. Where else does John use mountain top experiences?

4 What is the significance of Passover being near? Does this attest to the crowd’s interest in Jesus even to the point of neglecting preparations for Passover? Do members of the crowd have food for the Passover in their pockets, but are not ready to share it, so they may celebrate the Passover? The multiplication of the loaves echoes God providing manna in the desert.

5a The crowd must have separated from Jesus after the last episode. Giving Jesus time alone with his disciples.

5b-6 What does this say about what Jesus had been talking to the disciples about before the crowd arrived? Perhaps something like, with God all things are possible. What things today do we see as improbable, like feeding the 5,000, that we need to turn over to God?

7 A denarii = a day’s wages for a common laborer. Thus 200 denarii would be $8*8*200=$12,800. For 5,000 men and their families (nominally 20,000 people?) 200 denarii would yeild only $0.64/person, or about a bite.

8-9 Andrew is looking towards a solution rather than sizing the problem. He sees this as a beginning of a solution, although not its completion.

10 Does “plenty of grass” signify good grazing land with the potential for feed many?

11 Rather than urge others to contribute bread and fish, Jesus gives thanks for what has been given.

12 What would they do with 12 baskets of leftovers, since five loaves and two fish fed 5,000? Are the twelve baskets symbolic of the twelve tribes/apostles/fullness of leftovers?

13 This is more than a symbolic meal. The people are fed more than the morsel typically given at communion.

14 Who is the crowd expecting? Elijah? Or a prophet of the ilk that Moses wrote?

15 Jesus cannot be king because he must die, and such an earthly kingdom would be shortly lived. On the other hand, a kingdom with Christ as king will live from eternity to eternity.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • There is probably enough to deal with in verses 1-15.
  • Although verses 25-34 (and 35-71) might also be considered in conjunction with 1-15.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

In verse 14, more recent variants add “Jesus” to clarify who did the signs, although this is inferred by the context. Was this to refute an early heresy?

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus has come to a deserted place to grieve the death of John the Baptizer. The crowd is waiting for him when he goes ashore. Jesus heals the sick and lame then feeds them when the hour is late.

Mark 6:30-44 – Jesus and disciples go away to a deserted place to rest. The crowd arrives before Jesus does. Jesus teaches the crowd many things then feeds them when the hour is late. The people sit on green grass.

Luke 9:10-17 – Jesus withdraws to Bethsaida (on NW shore approx across sea from Tiberias) for privacy and the crowd follows him. He teaches them and heals them. No mention of grass that the people sit on. Not followed by Jesus walking on water.

John 6:1-15 – Unique in: 1) Purpose of going aside was for instruction of disciples. 2) Jesus uses questions about the source of the food to instruct disciples. 3) There is “PLENTY of grass” for the people to sit on. 4) A boy is noted as the provider of the loaves and fishes. 5) Barley bread is specified. Jesus admonishes the disciples to gather up the leftovers so there is no waste. 6) The crowd desires to make Jesus king.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Barley bread?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Jesus asks a question, knowing the answer, and knowing that had any of the twelve seen the possibility would be a miracle.

Philip approaches the problem of feeding the 5,000 rationally, wondering where they would find the money.

Andrew finds the first step towards a solution, but it is only a small step on a long journey. Five loaves and two fish might have fed the twelve.

The crowd is oblivious until everyone is fed, then they want to make him king.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The setting evokes Moses entering the Sinai: Crossing to the other side of the sea, Ascending the mountain with his disciples, the multitude of people, and proximity to the Passover. Thus the providing of bread in this wilderness evokes manna from heaven.

The verbs Jesus uses (take, give thanks, and distribute) foreshadow the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • God fed the people through Jesus with bread like manna in the wilderness, a nourishing sacrament for all time.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

The solution to the question that Jesus posed, stood before them, but they could not see it (him). When do we miss opportunities for Jesus to nourish our lives?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

Some might rationalize around the miracle in this week’s Gospel passage as generous sharing or appetizer-sized portions or assign the miracles as only signifying Jesus as succeeding Moses, and thus not relevant now. But what possibilities are we over looking today?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John. JKP, 1988.) describes chapter 6 as a transposition: concluding Jesus’ successful activity in Galilee. He notes how the setting lends a Mosaic character to the feeding: crossing to the other side, ascending the mountain, the multitude of people, and the proximity to Passover. Jesus’ actions foreshadow the institution of the Lord’s Supper when he “takes,” “gives thanks,” and “distributes,” but does not break the bread.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus as the bread of life calls us to think trans-rationally.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

What possibilities do we ignore?

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