Thursday, January 10, 2013 -- The Epiphany and Following (Year One)
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 942)
Psalms 138, 139:1-17(18-23) (morning) // 147 (evening)
John's Gospel is so different from the other three. So it is significant when we have something like our reading today -- the story of the feeding of the multitudes -- a story that is repeated by John in a very similar form as the other gospel writers. John doesn't do that often. It makes you think -- this story must be particularly significant.
But in John's version, there are some interesting unique details that John adds. John always writes purposefully; his details matter. He loves symbolic speech and creative analogies and metaphors.
First detail: John is careful to place this event within the context of the Passover. He wants us to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the Passover promise and Jesus' death as the new Passover lamb.
Next, the youth who brings the five loaves and two fish is unique to John. The young person's presence is an interesting detail. The resolution of the problem of scarcity comes from a powerless child whose offering through Jesus becomes abundant. And John mentions that the bread is barley bread -- the bread of the poor. This powerless young person offers the bread of the poor. It becomes an abundance for the multitude.
John adds that the youth comes to Jesus through an introduction from Andrew. In John's gospel Andrew has an interesting role. He is often a connector. It is Andrew who first recognized Jesus as the Messiah and brought his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter would become the leader of the post-resurrection church. It was Andrew who connected Jesus and Philip, telling Jesus that there were some Greeks who would like to see him. Now Peter brings forward a youth with a meager offering. It will become the resource for a great miracle.
Andrew is a connector. He connects people to Jesus, and wonderful things happen.
There is one other detail that has been the source of some humor in past years. After Andrew has brought the youth with the barley loaves and fish, Jesus has the crowd sit down. John offers a unique particular: "There was plenty of grass there." My beloved colleague the late Doug Stirling loved that line. "Oh!" he exclaimed, mimicking someone smoking a joint of marijuana, "that explains what happened!" That's probably not what John had in mind. But here's a guess. John might have wanted an allusion to the Twenty-third Psalm. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures..." Here in this green pasture, Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds the flock.
Last little detail: In the other accounts the disciples distribute the food. In John's version it is Jesus himself who gives the bread and also the fish.
Andrew, the connecting apostle, brings someone to Jesus. The child's gift becomes abundance in a circumstance of need, the bread of the poor creates fullness and satisfaction. In Jesus, we are refreshed in green pastures.
John gives us a refreshing way to approach the day. How can we like Andrew connect others to the source of life and light? What small, modest resource may become the origin of abundance and satisfaction? How might we lie down in green pastures and be led beside still waters and revive our souls today, even when we might need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death?