Feeding Five Thousand by N B Tafelberg
Monday, July 7, Chapter 6
This chapter opens with feeding five thousand, the only miracle found in all four Gospels. The details are the same except at the beginning where John has Jesus asking where they might get enough to feed the people, and adding that Jesus knew what he would do. The twelve baskets left over are a message to the Twelve that they are to continue to feed people. It is the same message Jesus gives us.
John then gives a shortened version of Jesus walking on water. There is one Greek word that can make a world of difference in the story, as pointed out by William Barclay. The word is epi which can be translated in this passage as on or by, as in Jesus was walking by the sea. Barclay sees this incident in a non-miraculous way; Jesus was on the shore, but the disciples thought he was on the water. In his commentary on Mark which uses the exact same phrase, but describes Jesus climbing into the boat, Barclay writes, What happened we do not know, and will never know.
Regardless, Barclay writes this about the meaning: John saw that Jesus watches. He saw that Jesus comes. He saw that Jesus helps. He saw that Jesus brings us to the haven. Somehow in the presence of Jesus the longest journey is shorter and the hardest battle easier.
The crowds find Jesus again and he bluntly tells them that they chase after him because he fed them. In verse 29 he continues with, you must do as I tell you. Not liking that, they asked. Moses gave the people bread from Heaven; what will you do for us?
Jesus gives a powerful double message with, The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.
And then the big one, one of the great I Am’s of John: I am the bread of life.
Barclay again: When we take [the bread of life Jesus offers], two things happen.
First, into life enters new satisfaction. The hunger and the thirst are gone. The human heart finds what it was searching for and life ceases to be mere existence and becomes a thing at once of thrill and of peace.
Second, even beyond life we are safe. Even on the last day when all things end we are still secure.
The following section, beginning at verse 41, shows the typical opposition to Jesus by the religious leaders who were so sure of themselves that they had no need to consult God regarding the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth might be a prophet.
In response to their continued unwillingness to listen, Jesus carried the Bread of Life statement farther in verse 51. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper, he used the same image as in verses 53-56; we eat the flesh of Jesus to live.
Most people in the world abhor the idea of cannibalism, but few are as repelled as are Jews. Eating blood of any animal is also abhorrent, so his listeners must have been covering their ears as Jesus gave this speech. It is a difficult idea to consider, but Jesus meant what he said. The only way to life is to take in the Bread of Heaven.
Jesus is that Bread. Once we take Jesus into our being, make him our master, follow his every teaching, only then will we have life.
Verse 60 gives us the reaction of many of his disciples. Their stomachs turned at the thought of such a meal. They, probably like the religious leaders, took his words too literally and made no effort to understand them.
1 John 4:2 adds this: Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. Do not lose sight of Jesus as a human. Because he lived on this earth as a 100% human and remained sinless, we can follow him.
To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to place Jesus at the center of our being. It is not a physical eating, but a spiritual one. Jesus says as much in verse 63.
In his conversation with the Twelve, Jesus is said to have known who would cut and run and who would betray him, even from the beginning. John is the only Gospel that gives us this view. The others seem to hold that thought until near the end. Peter, James and John knew Jesus better than any other humans, except perhaps Mary, so I tend to pay attention to John.
Tuesday, July 8, Chapter 7
The feast of the Tabernacles, Sukkot in Hebrew, is a week-long celebration in remembrance of the 40 years of wandering in the desert. It is a time to remember that God provides. It is the last of seven feasts and is in the fall, this year October 8-15. The ninth day is to celebrate the harvest, Thanksgiving.
We see in this reading that Jesus was being urged by his brothers to attend the feast in Jerusalem to better show his miracles. John tells us that the brothers did not believe in Jesus, so this was probably a joke to them.
In their defense Mary was known to have been pregnant before she was married. In a small village everyone would have known. For kids, unable to take it out on their mother, they would have blamed Jesus. Growing up they must have had more than their share of insults.
Jesus responded with the right time speech, meaning he would go when God directed him to go. Yet, Jesus went in secret after the family had gone. Is this a case of Jesus telling a lie?
Jesus held out for several days, but soon enough was teaching in the Temple saying, you can trust what I say because it is God who speaks through me. But you are demon-possessed they answered. I heal a man on the Sabbath and you want to kill me. Think about it.
If you are the Messiah we should not know that you come from Nazareth. I come from God so believe what I say. The crowd tried to take him to the authorities. but could not get him. Then the Pharisees got the Temple Guards to arrest him, but they could not.
John makes sure we understand what Jesus was saying in verses 37-38 by adding that the living water is the Holy Spirit. This connects to the water in the desert in the time of Moses. That was physical life-giving water provided by the Holy Spirit, but Jesus provides the Spirit for us to give us the true life. Some believed and some were still hung up on his Nazarene background.
The guards could not arrest Jesus, but the Pharisees were still upset, calling for his blood.
Wednesday, July 9, Chapter 8
Our oldest manuscripts of the Bible do not include the last verse of chapter 7 or the first 11 verses of this chapter. There is no way to know how or why it was added. It is likely that the account was handed down verbally until someone decided it must be included. Few modern translations leave it out because if fits everything we know about Jesus. It is a beautiful story of God’s Mercy and our need to forgive others.
In verse 12 Jesus gives the next I am. In chapter 1:6-9 John described the Light of the Messiah. The light to help us see the way, but also the light to expose our sins. To repent is to turn away from the darkness and face the source of the light.
The Pharisees were not impressed and attacked him on another legal technicality. Jesus expresses his Heavenly being. I am from God and I will return to God. You who are living in sin cannot follow me.
The Pharisees in their frustration finally asked Jesus, Who are you? You do not know who I am because you do not know God.
Jesus then speaks again of the truth. Paul Tillich writes: Twofold are the temptations to evade the burden of asking for the truth that matters. The one is the way of those who claim to have the truth and the other is the way of those who do not care for the truth….Many among us, Christians and secularists, are “Jews” in the sense of the Fourth Gospel. They point to their tradition which goes back to the Church Fathers, or to the popes, or to the Reformers, or to the makers of the American Constitution. Their church or their nation is their mother, so they have all truth and do not need to worry about the question of truth….Certainly there is no freedom where there is self-complacency about the truth of one’s own beliefs. There is no freedom where there is ignorant and fanatical rejection of foreign ideas and ways of life. There is not freedom but demonic bondage where one’s own truth is called the ultimate truth. For this is an attempt to be like God, an attempt which is made in the name of God.
The first thing which strikes us is that the truth of which Jesus speaks is not a doctrine but a reality, namely, He Himself: “I am the truth.”….But even the words of Jesus, if taken as a law, are not the truth which makes us free….They point to the truth, but they are not a law of truth.
How do we reach this truth? “By doing it,” is the answer of the Fourth Gospel. This does not mean being obedient to the commandments, accepting them and fulfilling them. Doing the truth means living out of the reality which is He who is the truth, making His being the being of ourselves and of our world. And again, we ask, “How can this happen?” “By remaining in Him” is the answer of the Fourth Gospel, i.e., by participating in His being. “Abide in me and I in you,” he says.
In verse 58 Jesus uses God’s name, I Am. That is cause for stoning.
Thursday, July 10, Chapter 9
Having jousted with those who would not see God, Jesus heals a blind man. He instructs his disciples that the blindness had nothing to do with specific sin or sins. The man was born blind, it happens. This specific man was placed in the path of Jesus so that “the work of God might be displayed.” This is how John treats all the miracles (only 8). The other Gospel writers emphasized the compassion of Jesus. John says it is to show the power of God.
Spitting on the dirt to heal the man was common in ancient times. Even so, we see Jesus doing it only one other time in Mark 7:33. Jesus used a technique of his day, knowing it was only for show. Even the spit of Jesus held no healing powers. Today he might say, “Ask your doctor for drug XYZ.”
Perhaps the main reason Jesus mixed the mud was that it involved doing work on the Sabbath. He seemed to go out of his way to do that.
The same reaction came from the religious experts. They questioned the man and his parents with no direct evidence for conviction. The man was brave to stand up to them. He even went so far as to say, “I do not believe God would work through a sinner.”
This miracle is about seeing, bringing us to the question, must we see to believe? For the most part, Protestant churches have become lecture halls where we file in once a week to hear about Jesus. We do not see much. We do not see miracles. We do not see Jesus. Has the message of Jesus been lost?
Return to chapter 1. In the beginning was the Word. God spoke and all that we see came into existence. We do not need to see Jesus in person. Matthew 37-40: Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Remember that the Gospel is about doing. We hear, we see, we believe, we do.
Friday, July 11, Chapter 10
In the first 18 verses of this chapter Jesus describes the average Palestinian shepherd, then and now. Sheep and goats were grown for three purposes. The majority were for wool production and those are the animals Jesus is describing. Those animals died of old age. They and the shepherd became friends. Each shepherd developed his own language unlike any human language that only his herd would respond to. The shepherd did nothing else. Someone would bring food to him, generally bread, cheese, dried fruit and olives. He drank from the same streams his herd used.
The others were grown for slaughter, either for daily eating, weekly for most people, or for the sacrifices at the Temple. Only lambs and kids that passed a 72 point inspection were allowed for the sacrifices. They were pampered for up to a year before the ritual. Those destined for the meat market tended to be the sick, lame, and blemished. In either case the shepherd did not develop as close a relationship.
Jesus gave us two I ams in these verses. The first is I am the gate. When the herds were not in the high pastures of summer, the shepherd would bring them each evening to a large holding pen. The pen was made of rock stacked 3 to 4 feet high with only one opening. If there was only one herd in the pen, the shepherd slept in the opening. If there were several herds, which was most often, one shepherd would block the opening and each of the others would sleep along the walls, calling to them to let them know he was near. In the morning, each shepherd would call his herd and only his sheep would come out. It is a beautiful picture of our relationship with the Messiah.
The second I am is the good shepherd. Clearly, Jesus wants us to know that he is always with us even when we do not see or hear him. We are smarter than sheep (most of the time), so we do not need to see him and hear his voice. We see him with the eyes of faith.
With verse 22, Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication also called Hanukkah. This year it will run from December 16 through 24. It is a new celebration, at least compared to those going back to Moses. The 2nd century BCE victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land is the reason. The rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a Hellenistic Godless lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.
The kindling of a seven-branched Menorah (candelabra) was an important component of the daily service in the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the hands of the Greek invaders, they found only a small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil fit for fueling the Menorah. The problem was, it was sufficient to light the Menorah only for one day, and it would take eight days to produce new pure oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.
Jesus was asked point blank if he was the Messiah. His answer, I have already told you but you do not believe me. My actions are my best witness. Verse 30 nearly ended his life.
If I don’t do the things my Father does, well and good; don’t believe me. But if I am doing them, put aside for a moment what you hear me say about myself and just take the evidence of the actions that are right before your eyes.
John has already mentioned narrow escapes by Jesus with more to come.
Just for the record, from John 6:25 to 12:1, there are no parallels in the other 3 Gospels. John has a lot of fresh material.
Be righteous and do good.