YOU CAN'T HAVE
TRAVELED VERY FAR
Jesus of Nazareth
Gospel Reflection for July 30, 2006
Ordinary Time, Proper 12 (Revised Common Lectionary)
In July of 1966, I was just beginning my freshman year at California State College at Long Beach. It was a hot summer, but certainly not as hot as the one we have been having these past few weeks. The Lovin' Spoonful came out with a tune that went to the top of the charts called Hot Town, Summer in the City.
The chorus line for the song came back to me as I sought relief the past few weeks from the unusual heat of not only the day, but even the night. See if you can identify with these lyrics.
Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
Over the weekend and through the opening days of the week, we heard of the need to conserve energy. Blackouts and brownouts resulted in many homes being without any electricity or anyway of maintaining a cool water supply. Food spoiled, people tried to find “a shadow in the city” as a shelter from the blazing sun.
Every time we experience what we call a scarcity of resources, whether it is electricity, shade, water, food, or clean air, I think about the story from our Gospel today. Jesus feeds 5,000 people through the generous and some might suggest naïve gift of a small boy.
Is it possible that how we read this story reveals our beliefs about the nature of God? Do we believe that God is a god of scarcity or a god of abundance? As we work our way through this passage from John, consider the characters and their interactions. Can you tell which god they believe to be the true God?
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
What attracted the large crowd to Jesus? John says that it is the “Signs that he (Jesus) was doing for the sick.” A sign points us to a destination, to a reality beyond what we know. In John’s Gospel, there are 7 such signs (Hint: The first sign Jesus performed was changing water into wine).*
Anyone who is a bit older can probably remember traveling the highways of America and seeingl those wonderful Burma-Shave billboards that mile by mile offered a continuing message about their product and a bit of amusement for weary or bored travelers.
Here is an example of a Burma-Shave message.
Sign 1:OUR FORTUNE
Sign 2:IS YOUR SHAVEN FACE
Sign 3:IT'S OUR BEST
Sign 4 ADVERTISING SPACE
If we were to follow the Burma-Shave format, signs that led to the Kingdom of Heaven would certainly be placed in the most desolate and difficult paths that we travel spiritually, emotionally, and physically. John the Baptist invited people out into the wilderness around the Jordan River where he became a sign of the One who was coming.
Perhaps a good sign for today's Gospel might be offered in the following style.
Sign 1: GOD HEALED THE SICK
Sign 2: LARGE CROWDS DID FOLLOW
Sign 3: OPENED THEIR HEARTS
Sign 4: GAVE THEM SOMETHING TO SWALLOW
The word used by John for signs was "semeia." Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the word "dunamis" (Literally means “acts of power.” This word comes into such English words as dynamic, dynamo, and dynamite) to describe what are often called miracles.
"Semeia" literally means signpost. Like the Burma Shave billboards posted in the wilderness of America, John speaks of the signs of the coming and present Kingdom of Heaven along the path that Jesus walks. These are the signs that the Gospel writer invites us to follow on our way to knowing Jesus.
These signs point to a different reality than the one our human culture has constructed and claims to be true. Jesus healing of the sick was a sign that showed the closeness of the Kingdom of Heaven. To be sure, it was not the final destination, but it did encourage those around Jesus to take a road less traveled.As you will read in the story, the crowd decided that Jesus would make a great king and so they charged him in order to force him to accept their crown. Jesus leaves the crowd behind.
There will be another hill on which he will become the bread of life for the world. It will be on that hill that his crown will be made of thorns and his throne will be the cross. The invitation to follow the signs that lead us to that hill outside of Jerusalem have been sent out. The signs mark the way.
What signs of God’s presence and guidance have you seen that have led you to follow the path on which you are traveling?
What do you believe to be the meaning of the sign of the feeding of the 5,000?
Which of the characters in the story below do you most identify with?
The young boy who provided the bread and fish?
The crowd who followed Jesus out into the wilderness?
Do you think that people who lived at that time would ever have gone out into the wilderness without taking sufficient food and water? (Consider that there have been 80 deaths attributed to the heat in California during this current heat spell)
How are the young boy and Jesus alike in their relationship with God?
How would you describe the god that Phillip and Andrew think is true?
Here is the Gospel Reading for this Sunday.
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"
Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
SEVEN SIGNS OF JOHN'S GOSPEL
Sign #1: Jesus turns water into wine at a Wedding Feast (John 2:1-11)
Jesus is Forgiveness.
Sign #2 Jesus heals the son of a nobleman (John 5:1-15)
Jesus is Lord of life.
Sign #3 The healing of a paralized man (John 5:1-15)
Jesus gives legs to the world.
Sign #4 The Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14)
Jesus is the bread of life.
Sign #5 Jesus comes to his disciples on a stormy sea (John 15-21)
Jesus is the Lord of all creation.
Sign #6 Jesus restores the sight of a blind man (John 9:1-41)
Jesus is the Light of World.
Sign #7 The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-57)
Jesus is the resurrection and Life. Death can not change the love, power, and forgiving of God.