Preached at All Saints,
King City, July 25, 2021. Readings for
this Sunday (Proper 17B): 2 Samuel 11.1-15; Ps 14; Eph 3.14-21; Jn 6.1-21.
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. (Jn 6.15)
This week I
was listening to two men talking about their boats, as people here on the edge
of cottage country often do.
Specifically they were speaking about Georgian Bay and how treacherous
it can be, with strong winds and high waves blowing up without any warning. They both agreed that it was best to put your
trust in a big boat.
gospel the lesson seems to be, either get a bigger boat, or, better yet, put your
trust in Jesus. In today’s gospel, as we
move from Mark to John, there’s a lot going on, and Jesus is doing many things –
he’s testing the disciples, feeding a crowd, then evading a crowd, then walking
on water, and then somehow rescuing the disciples from the storm. In the midst of all this action, we notice
several things about Jesus. The first is
that, as we saw in Mark 6 last Sunday, he is always caring for and protecting
his people, in the tradition of the shepherd kings of Israel. The second is that he does these things
entirely on his own terms, as if refusing to be drawn too far into human
What do I
mean by “on his own terms”? Let’s start
by looking at his question to the disciples: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
(Jn 6.5). The answer of course is “nowhere”. First, they’re on a mountain, and second, as
Philip notes, even if there was a bakery nearby, they don’t have the money to
feed five thousand people. Jesus then
dismisses human economics, with its built in scarcities and inequalities, and
turns to a boy with a little barley bread, the food of the poor, and some dried
fish. In the kingdom of heaven there is
always more than enough, because the economy of the kingdom of heaven works on
grace, not on scarcity.
Now let’s turn to the
crowds that want to make him a king, Jesus flees to the mountain. The clue here is “take him by force” (Jn
6.15). Force is the currency of the
economy of power and politics. Jesus certainly
knew how much force belongs to kings like Herod, who murdered his cousin John
the Baptist. He also certainly knew the
story of David that we heard in our first reading, of how he used force and
power to abduct and rape Bathsheeba and then arrange to have her husband
murdered. By escaping the crowd that he
ha just fed and then retreating to a lonely mountain, Jesus is again signalling
that he’s not going to be drawn into human affairs. The kingdom of heaven cannot be captured, or
manipulated, or used to advantage, no matter how many still try.
Instead, Jesus comes to us
on his own initiative, on his own terms, as he comes, walking mysteriously on
the water, or as he does when he feeds the crowds. It’s often noted that while in the feeding miracles
of the synoptic gospels Jesus has the disciples pass out the food, here John
tells us that Jesus “distributed [the loaves] to those who were seated; so also
the fish, as much as they wanted” (Jn 6.11).
Both these episodes I think tell us the same thing – that Jesus will
come to us, feed us, save us, entirely on his own terms, terms that we call “grace”.
Grace is underserved
goodness. Jesus, even as he tested Philip,
knew exactly who he is dealing with, just as God knew what King David was
capable of when he declared him to be “a man after God’s heart” (1 Sam
13.14). This is the God who knows exactly
who we are, how broken and fallen we can be, Jesus, “to whom “all hearts are
open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden”. Grace is that Jesus, knowing everything about
us, “has a heart for us, comes to us, feeds us and saves us.
These last many months, as
our churches have been closed and out lives put on hold, we’ve probably all
felt that this pandemic was one long storm.
It sure felt like a storm, for how many times during Covid has the news reported
that we’re in “uncharted waters”? We may
have wished that we had a bigger boat to put our trust in. But it was never about the boat. It was always about Jesus, who always watched
over us, and who comes to us today, caring, not about what we deserve, but what
we need. Jesus comes to us again today, giving
himself for us, feeding us, caring for us, saving us.
God, thank you for feeding us, caring for us, and saving us, out of no agenda
other than the love you bear for us.
We pray that your agenda, that of the kingdom of the heaven, may become
the only one that matters in our hearts and lives.