Sunday Aug 6 – Proper 13 (18)
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 17:1-7, 15
The Gospel of John is unlike the other three gospels, unlike what we call the Synoptic gospels. One thing that makes it different is that it begins at the beginning, at the very beginning.
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
John summons memories of Genesis.
“1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said …” And so forth.
John makes the connection to the beginning and declares that Jesus is that beginning, before he is ever born, before he has entered the world as the son of Mary.
And a few verses later, John says this about Jesus’ coming into the world, words we read every year at Christmas: “9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”
His declaration about Jesus as the light of the world includes a statement of rejection. Even though he is the light of the world, even though all things came into being through him, no one understands who he is. They do not know him.
This must be a difficult experience. And we all know that experience in some way. The younger sibling who lives in the shadow of the older sibling and is measured against her sibling’s accomplishments. The immigrant who is understood by the stereotypical markings of his background and perception of his culture, the extrovert as being the joker, and the introvert as the one without a sense of humour, or shy, or without something to say.
My mother experienced great loneliness her entire life for she rarely felt understood or appreciated for who she was.
Jesus is halfway through his ministry and has experienced opposition at every turn, finding an interim climax in being said to be in cahoots with the chief of demons for nothing other than the restoration of a man who had been mute and blind. (Matthew 12)
Our passage in Matthew 14 begins with the words, “Now when Jesus heard this,” which makes us wonder what “this” is.
“This” is the frivolous murder of his cousin John the Baptist. Upon hearing it, Jesus withdraws to a quiet place, to be alone with his emotions, his thoughts, to consider his vocation, to pray.
John’s murder was not just any murder, nor was it the murder of any cousin, John’s murder – for as different as Jesus and John were – was also a rejection of Jesus, amplifying the threat that was looming.
In the words of the Gospel of John, “9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”
What does one do when one is so misunderstood? Call it quits and go back to carpentry, go into a deep depression? Did Jesus not say in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Would this not be the opportunity to follow his own advice?
Yet if we think that, we forget that Jesus never did seek popularity, never did seek to be recognized, never sought to be understood. He is the One who understands, who recognizes, who knows our cares.
It is all this that sets the scene for the feeding of the 5000.
Jesus perhaps is lonelier than he has ever been, yet as the people come to him, he has compassion for them and cures their sick.
For Jesus, it was always about others, it was always about the world, it was always about love. Not about gratitude, not about being understood, not about a modicum of appreciation.
“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
Sara Miles, in her autobiographical book, “Eat this Bread” speaks about the time after her conversion when she wanted others to be fed from the table where she had been and was being fed, the altar of St Gregory of Nyssa Church. This was about food for the poor. The food was gathered and distributed from the same altar and space where at worship the Eucharist was celebrated. When she met with the bishop about her hopes for the church, the bishop referred to the feeding of the 5000 and said to her, “The miracle was not the miraculous multiplication of food, but the miracle was that people shared.”
In his despair of his cousin’s death, Jesus did not quit, did not throw in the towel, but continued to believe in people, for before we believed in God, God believed in us.
The bishop was right, the same people who were concerned about being understood and accepted, who so easily turned back to their own needs, in the presence of Jesus they – who had taken no provisions and who are so hungry – think of the person next to them, and the person at the far end of the field, and suddenly their own desires are not opposite to those of the other 4999 (plus women and children) but they are the same.
In another way we see that people who are able to kill are also able to give life, and thus, in the presence of Jesus they show us our destiny, which is to give life not to take it.
This is important learning in a world that more often embraces death than it does life.
In Matthew and the other synoptics Jesus often refers to himself as ‘the son of man’. There is much thought about what this means. Perhaps it means this: Jesus is the truly human one who not only shows us what it means to be human, but whose redemption makes it possible for us to work without reward or recognition (as nice as those things are), but to live driven by the love of God, the love through which all things came into being, the love that sees, understands, cares, and reconciles.