Answering Our Deepest Needs
29 July 2018 – Lectionary 17, Proper 12
The sixth chapter of John offers a detailed discourse of Jesus as the bread of life. The first fifteen verses relate John’s version of the Great Multiplication, followed by the miracle of Jesus walking on water (vv 16–21). Each of these stories can be treated as independent units; the developers of the lectionary, however, combine these two individual stories into one lection. Considering these two stories as a single unit offers a perspective not apparent when considering the stories separately.
The common theme of the two stories is the response of the people who receive a gift of grace from Jesus. In the first story, Jesus meets the physical needs of the crowd by providing an abundance of food from a very limited supply. The crowd responds by trying to draft Jesus into their preconceived status quo notions of power structures. From this, Jesus withdraws.
In the second story, Jesus meets the needs of the disciples by rescuing them from a storm at sea, and calming their fears of the unknown. The disciples respond by welcoming Jesus into their presence without condition or expectation. In doing so, Jesus does in fact join the disciples in the boat, rather than withdrawing as he did with the crowd.
Following Jesus’ lead, rather than insisting Jesus follow our lead, is the way we sustain our relationship with the Good Shepherd. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
2 Kings 4:42-44
Reflecting the Great Multiplication in John 6, this short lection in 2 Kings recounts Elisha’s miracle of feeding one hundred people with twenty loaves of barley and an indeterminate amount of grain from one sack. Although the miracle is in no way similar in scope to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, we are reminded that God has always provided for us, and we may trust that God’s provision, both physical and spiritual, is eternal. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
Beginning a lection with “For this reason” automatically prompts a question: is the author saying, “because of the reason I just gave,” or “because of the reason I am about to give you”? If we were working through the entire letter, we would have to spend time on this question; however, for our purposes, we will trust that the lection we have been assigned is inclusive, and therefore the latter is the answer to our question.
In fact, verses 14–19 comprise one sentence in the Greek, so we are safe in our assumption. If we substitute the word “pray” for “bow my knees” in verse 14, and read “I pray that...” as “I pray so that...” in verse 16, the meaning of the long opening sentence of this lection becomes clear; and when we consider the lection as a whole, we discover a prayer in the form of a traditional collect, containing all of the traditional elements: the address to God (v 14, ‘‘Father’’); the attributes of God on which the prayer is based (v 15); the petition (vv 16–19a); the intended result of the petition (v 19b); and the final doxology (vv 20–21). –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
Steven H. Fazenbaker is director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 88-99.