Scripture: John 6:1-21
Superman. The Lone Ranger. Wonder Woman. Who has never heard of these characters? If you’re over the age of 60, I’d bet my bottom dollar you were influenced by the early superheros, like Superman.
Similarly, the Jews at the feeding of the five thousand would have noticed Jesus’ likeness to their own version of superheros: the prophets with miraculous signs. Moses. Elijah. Elisha.
Those watching and listening to Jesus in the Gospel of John we heard today would have remembered a similar miraculous feeding or two with their superheros. When Jesus walked on the water, the disciples might have remembered miracles of water parting and dry land being tread. There’s a lot to be said about these miracles and very little time to say it. So I’m just going to point out two things.
First, it’s very likely that John in his Gospel was trying to draw parallels between Jesus and previous prophets. And second, John is trying to tell us that Jesus is far more than just a prophet.
I sometimes like to read John as if someone had given him a writing job. I like to imagine his writing job was this: “John, write about a person you know and love – your best friend – who knows and loves you too… and then write that in real life this person is actually God.”
In John’s Gospel he shows us in all kinds of ways who Jesus really is, and also who God is. In stories about the disciples John is showing us that Jesus – both human and divine – is someone we know. Someone we love, and yet are astonished by. Someone who does miracles like a prophet, but in a way that continually points to the Father.
The miracles of the bread and the fish tell us we need not fear scarcity in God’s eternal Kingdom. Life is in abundance, and we have abundant life through Christ. The miracle of walking on the water tells us we need not fear a watery grave, or any kind of grave. Jesus shows us we can walk all over fear and death, and fear of death, as easily as we walk on dry ground. Jesus can do this for us because he is the Son of God.
To drive this message home, this reading from John ends with one of John’s “I am” statements. From what I understand, the Greek can be translated here as either “it’s me” or “I Am.” I prefer the latter. I like to think John is telling us, after all these miracles, after walking on the water, who Jesus really is. John’s showing us Jesus’ divine nature through the name, “I Am that I Am.” The name God named himself when Moses begged for a name.
The “I Am that I Am” name is one of the most amazing pieces of scripture I’ve ever run across. I think the “I Am” name of God might work in all languages. I Am. Yo Soy. Ich Bin. Je Sui. Wo Shi. It’s present. It’s ongoing. It’s active and dynamic as well as eternal and in a sense unchanging. “I Am” doesn’t need anything after it, although our minds really want to put something there. To limit the unlimited.
After Jesus says “I Am,” he tells the disciples to not be afraid. Now, if God walked up to you in the form of someone you know, you might well be terrified, at least at first. I know I would be. But the disciples know Jesus. They’re best friends. Once they realized in this story that their best friend and teacher is the Son of God, once they got over their fear, they wanted him with them in the boat.
And, like the disciples, we can realize that Jesus, that our Father, has always been here with us. With us in our lives. We know him, even if we think we don’t. We can’t ever truly be separate from Him, unless we make a real effort at it.
While the enormity of such a powerful being is scary at first, when we meet the presence of God we realize that he is not a stranger to us. When Christ enters our lives, we realize that Jesus is not alien to us. It feels like coming home to us.
I was thinking about prophets and Jesus and the nature of God one day while I was at the seaside. I sat on the beach and watched a family. One little girl who was about two years old, three women, and a man. The man was playing in the surf a good stone’s throw away. The women played with the little girl at the edge of the water. They made sure she didn’t get knocked down by a wave that came in too close. They made sure she didn’t get splashed in the face by salt spray. They hovered and tended and chatted with the little girl, and none of that is a bad thing. Especially if we see the ocean as something dangerous to be avoided.
But what if we choose to see the ocean as an abundant source of life. If we do, we can see that a prophet can take us to the edge of the source of abundant life, but a prophet can’t take us any farther. A prophet can correct and warn and guide and teach, like the women at the beach with the little girl.
As I watched this family, these women and this little girl, all of a sudden the man, who I immediately realized was the little girl’s father, bounded up from the ocean waves and ran up to the little girl. His shoulder length curls streamed water and there was a big grin plastered on his face, not only because he was having fun but also because he was full of love for his child.
He swooped in among the women, scooped up the little girl into his arms, and bounded back into the sea, holding the little girl high up in his arms, allowing her to experience the surf just like he did. Allowing her to join him in the fullness of the ocean experience, not keeping her dry or calm or unafraid, but keeping her safely with him in the sea of life.
This, I saw, is what the divinity of Christ shows us. This is what the author of abundant life can do for us if we let him.
If we let our Father, if we let the Son of God, if we let the Holy Spirit haul us into the fullness of life – it is eye-opening, and a little scary, but we’re with our Father. Yes, we get knocked around a bit by life. Yes, we get really wet when we’re fully in the stream of abundant life. We can be overwhelmed by such an enormous ocean that is life itself.
God doesn’t protect us from life. He is with us within it. He keeps us close to him in the deep waters. Shall we join him? Shall we trust that he’s holding onto us, and that he will never let us go?
Our place is not on the shore. We are to join in the fullness of life, although it’s sometimes painful and frightening. Sometimes it’s violent and confusing.
Jesus, our friend and teacher, is the author of life and all that’s in it. That’s what John is trying to tell us. But there’s more. He’s also telling us we’re more than friends of Christ. We’re heirs through Christ to God’s eternal Kingdom. Full members of the divine family. And it may seem a bit chaotic sometimes, but we are living, even now, the eternal and abundant life Christ has prepared for us. Amen.