“Near”

GOSPEL | JOHN 6:4-15

Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards 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?”  10 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.  11 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.  12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”  13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  14 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.”  15 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.

This miracle is recorded in all four Gospels, the only one that they all share. This screams, “Pay Attention!” John, to be different, starts his with this strange detail: “Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.” (v.4) What does the Passover have to do with this miraculous meal?”

I think John is asking me to see this meal connected to a greater one, one with deep symbolic significance. At the center of this passage, we see Jesus officiating this symbolic meal: “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated” (v.11). Took, Thanked, Gave. This meal-time pattern recurs with Jesus: there’s also the post-resurrection meal with the couple on the Emmaus road, and his Last Passover with his disciples.

There’s something about this pattern that makes a meal more than a meal, but a real gesture of the kingdom: take, bless, break, give. John is asking me to see that here, at this miraculous hill-side picnic, “the Passover…[is] near” (v.4). This is a kingdom feast; pay attention.

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