17th Sunday, Year B, 25 July, 2021, 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
This Sunday the liturgy interrupts our progress through Mark’s Gospel to introduce Chapter Six from John’s Gospel. We recognize this section as John’s exposition of the Eucharist. Why he places it here rather than during the Last supper in Chapters Thirteen through Seventeen, I can’t say.
I can say that he sets up both narratives in the same relative time frame, as parallel accounts in some sense, on the eve of the Passover. And finding this episode here, so early in John’s Gospel, suggests it’s foundational to his understanding of Jesus’ ministry.
If we only had these verses from today’s Gospel, we’d have a very nice picture: everyone is satisfied, impressed and recognizes Jesus as a prophet. The only discordant note is that people want to make him king, so Jesus withdraws, rather than be misunderstood.
Perhaps that’s the crux of the problem: people totally misunderstand the experience they have just shared. Everything is going to get worse, as we’ll see in the Sundays to come, because these people prefer their misunderstanding. Jesus really will be acting like a prophet, trying to get people back on track. But he will reveal himself to be more than a prophet or a king, which is much more than they want to understand.
As a result, what should be the Sacrament of unity becomes divisive. They relish the miracle but not the nourishment. They exalt in the prophet, but not his message. They would make him king to solve their problems, but would not follow the example of the powerless teacher.
Couldn’t this feeding have satisfied a deeper hunger than their stomachs’? Couldn’t they have discovered something, someone bigger than their immediate needs? Jesus provides an example of self-giving and service to imitate, but that is where things break down.