Friday, March 08, 2002

Refreshment Sunday, Fourth Sunday in Lent

If we focus on the [traditional] Gospel for Lent IV - John 6: 1-15 - we can see why it has been called REFRESHMENT Sunday. Our Lord Jesus Christ is presented as providing a large crowd [in which were 5,000 men] on a green hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee [= Tiberias] with a basic meal, in the days immediately before the Feast of Passover, thus at Springtime and with green grass on the hillside.

From this reading we learn much about Jesus himself, his disciples, and the Galilean people. Let us look at these in reverse order.

1. The men and women of Galilee are very impressed by Jesus as the Prophet who is also the Worker of miracles. They feel deeply the fact that they are a subject people whose land is occupied by a pagan, foreign power. Especially at the time of Passover do they remember the deliverance of the tribes of Israel from the bondage in the land of Egypt under Moses. So they look for a new Moses, a deliverer who will lead them out of bondage to Rome and into freedom as the covenant people of God, so that their land flows with milk and honey.

Thus after they have witnessed miracles on both sides of the Sea of Galilee performed by Jesus and have been fed by him in a remarkable way from food that was intended for one person (five flat barley cakes and two very small
fishes) they became very enthusiastic to appoint him as their Deliverer and King! But Jesus refused - he went off up the hill alone! His vocation as the Messiah & King of Israel was to be fulfilled by a different path - a very lonely path. He was the Son of Man who would suffer on behalf of his people to save them from spiritual bondage. He would not lead an army against the Roman occupying forces. In the 40 days in the wilderness he had rejected all such ideas and temptations.

2. The disciples and especially Philip had witnessed the SIGN that Jesus did at the wedding party in Cana. They should have been aware that Jesus could handle any needs of the large crowd. Yet when Jesus asked them about how they proposed to feed the crowd, which had become hungry after a long day, all they could propose was buying bread - an impractical suggestion in terms of where they were, their financial resources and the amount of food needed to feed so many. Apparently, they were men of little or no faith and the weeks spent with Jesus had not as yet made any major impact on their way of looking at the world! As a last resort, Andrew told Jesus of a boy with his basic poor-man's lunch; but he did not expect anything to come from this - yet it did!

3. Jesus is presented as the Master surrounded by his disciples, as the compassionate "Prophet" who wants to provide refreshment for a weary and hungry crowd, and as the Messiah who presents signs (miracles) in order to point to the glory of the Father who sent him and to his own vocation as the Son & Servant of the Father. He knows what he has to teach the disciples and people, what he has to do to fulfil his vocation, what is in the hearts and minds of the Galilean people, and how committed and enlightened is his band of disciples.

We have to read the rest of John 6 to begin to appreciate in greater detail precisely who is Jesus and what is his identity as well as what is the true food and drink that he provides for Jews and Gentiles. Why not do this!

Yet there is enough in John 6:1-15 to reveal to us that Jesus is able - pre-eminently able - to refresh us with the food that is from above. He is able to take care not only of our earthly needs ["seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things shall be made available"] but also, and more importantly, of our eternal needs for he is the bread of life from heaven and thus he provides food which nourishes unto eternal life.

"We feed on thee, thou living Bread!"

The Revd Dr Peter Toon March 8, 2002

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