RCL Year B, Proper 12 (Alternate Readings)
2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-19, Ephesians 3:14-21, Saint John 6:1-21

We begin today five Sundays of Gospels taken from the Sixth Chapter of Saint John. These five Sundays interrupt our march through Mark and situate us in the theology of Saint John, at times very different from that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Often the key to understanding Saint John is to understand that in John we have parallel worlds that mirror each other, but they do not touch each other. One world is the spiritual and eternal world. And Jesus lives there and speaks about it. The second world is the physical and transitory world of the disciples and those who try to understand Jesus.

The classic example is the conversation that Jesus and Nicodemus have in John’s third chapter. You recall that Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born from above. Jesus clearly speaks about a spiritual and eternal birth. But Nicodemus replies by asking how can anyone be born after having grown old. Nicodemus clearly speaks about the physical and transitory world. It may seem that Jesus and Nicodemus talk past one another. But Jesus is what he talks about. Everyone who encounters him encounters God and eternity. But some who encounter him miss this and see him as part of the physical and transitory world.

That is where we are, I believe, in the Gospel today which includes two miracles, the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the sea.

The reaction to each of those miracles is what is key. After the feeding of the five thousand, the people say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”[1] It is as though they said, “Elisha did this with barley loaves, too. We have the next prophet here with us.” What they miss is that encountering Jesus is encountering God, not just another prophet.

The reaction to Jesus’ walking on the sea is left to his disciples, and it goes something like this. They see him; they are terrified; he identifies himself; and they want to take him into the boat. They want to be closer to him. And their desire to be closer to him leads immediately to the boat reaching land. The disciples have realized more than the people did earlier. They are beginning to glimpse that encountering Jesus is encountering God, and they want that.

I put it to you that you and I are encountering Jesus all the time. We straddle both worlds, the physical and transitory as well as the spiritual and eternal. Both worlds are a convention and a distinction in John’s Gospel. And they are a feature of our experience as human beings and creatures of the living God. We encounter Jesus all of the time, and the challenge is to perceive him. People of faith can see him in the Eucharist, but perhaps it takes even greater faith to hear him in a truthful sentence or to see him in a good deed carefully and thoroughly done. That challenge confronts most of us. We want to see more of him; we want to be closer to him. The Lord always answers those desires and has been known to do so for hundreds of years. Did we not say to the Lord a minute or two ago, “You open wide your hand * and satisfy the needs of every living creature”[2]?

[1] Saint John 6:14.

[2] Psalm 145:17.