Jesus the bread of life in John 6

We continue through our careful reading of John 6 as an intermission from Mark’s gospel, and on Trinity 9 in Year B the gospel reading is John 6.24–35. Having romped through 21 verses last week, which include the Fourth Gospel’s lengthier version of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water (though in a brief summary), we are slowing down to consider the first 11 verses of the ‘bread of life’ dialogue that, uniquely, follows the feeding in this gospel.

For some reason, the lectionary omits the connective verses John 6.22–23. They begin with a characteristic temporal marker τῇ ἐπαύριον ‘on the next day’, which Matthew and Mark only use once each, but the Fourth Gospel uses particularly in chapter 1 to count through the first seven symbolic days of Jesus’ early ministry. (The work does not occur anywhere in Luke, but frequently in Acts as it tracks the activities of the Peter and Paul.)

These omitted verses also give some careful geographical detail, again characteristic of this gospel, which would have been impossible to include by someone not familiar with the region on first-hand terms (see the section on topography from p 95 in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple by Richard Bauckham). The repeated references to ‘the other side’ (John 6.22, 25) refer to the north-eastern and north-western shores, rather than suggesting anyone has crossed the centre of the lake, and as well as pointing to topography also assume that we have read Mark’s account of these events.

In the synoptics gospels, Jesus is portrayed as dynamic and active, travelling around and actively seeking out ‘the lost’, especially in the first half of his ministry, in Galilee (‘The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost’, Luke 19.10). By contrast, in the Fourth Gospel Jesus doesn’t seek people out, but remains a centre of stillness, and at times even elusive (‘You will seek me but you will not find me’ John 7.34), as others seek him.

This question—”Whom do you seek?”—runs through the Gospel of John like a light red thread…The thread started running with the very first words Jesus spoke in this Gospel, which formed a question directed at the disciples of John the Baptist that started to follow after him. To them, Jesus said, “What do you seek?” (1:38). When Jesus utters an even more personal form of this question to Mary Magdalene, it is not the second but rather the third time this basic question has appeared. In between the first and the last is the question of Jesus not to his would-be disciples, not to this first witness of his Resurrection, but to the band of soldiers his betrayer has gathered. To them, too, he asks, “Whom do you seek?” (18:4).
When they find him, there is no suggestion that they thought he had arrived there miraculously. Just as only a few were aware of how the water became wine in John 2, so only the ‘insiders’ knew he had walked on the water.

The feeding of the 5000 in John 6

The lectionary takes us from famine to feast—metaphorically and literally!—as we move from the sparse verses about Jesus’ ministry in Mark 6 to the lavish feast of both the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water in John 6. Whilst we might have struggled to find a sermon on last week’s readings, there … Continue Reading

Jesus is rejected at Nazareth in Mark 6

The gospel lectionary reading for Trinity 5 in Year B is Mark 6.1–13, and is yet another example of Mark’s highly concise storytelling that is packed with theological narrative significance. Once more the lectionary does us a slight disservice; the reading combines the story of those taking offence at Jesus in his home town with … Continue Reading

Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4

The lectionary reading for Trinity 3 in Year B is Mark 4.35–41, the account of Jesus calming the storm. It is a fabulous story both full of little eye-witness details, and yet at the same time impossible to read without feeling its symbolic significance. Unlike Matthew, Mark does not bridge the literal story to its … Continue Reading

Jesus’ followers are kept, sanctified and sent into the world in John 17

The Sunday lectionary gospel reading for Easter 7 in Year B is John 17.6–19, the central section of Jesus’ so-called ‘High Priestly Prayer’. The reading omits the introduction and opening sentences of the prayer, and stops short before the often-quoted ‘that they might be one’; I have previously commented on the use of this phrase, … Continue Reading

Jesus the true vine in John 15

The Sunday lectionary reading for Easter 5 in Year B is Jesus’ teaching that he is the true vine in John 15.1–8. It is a striking and memorable image that has three different elements of context to consider, and it reiterates themes from earlier in the Farewell Discourse as well as picking up ideas that … Continue Reading