Yesterday’s discussion focused on the two episodes recounted in John 6:1-21. The first was the feeding of the 5,000. Guys commented on several aspects of this episode. We noted St. John’s use of numerical symbolism — 12 baskets, 5 loaves etc. At the beginning, it seemed that interpreters were reading meaning not intended by St. John and not intrinsic to his witness. The constant appearance of meaningful numbers (the meaning of which may have been more apparent to St. John’s immediate audiencce) makes it more and more apparent that St. John did intend to use these numbers meaningfully.
Along these lines, we noted how this episode hearkens back to the Old Testament in so many ways and how the episode would have resonated with a person of St. John’s time and place in ways that are difficult for us to grasp just as people in 3020 A.D. will have a difficult time grasping our witness to the Risen Lord. We discussed manna — what is it? What is means for us? Its relationship to the multiplied bread.
We noted the connection to the Liturgy. The eucharist is the obvious connection, but it was noted that if one puts St. John’s description together with that of the Synoptic evangelists, we have a pre-figurement of the Mass: preaching and then breaking of the bread. It is not crystal clear, of course, but it is there nonetheless. Especially interesting was the connection to the Didache. The Didache is believed to be one of the earliest catechisms of the Church — its full name is “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.” Interestingly, the Eucharistic prayer that it records recalls this episode and connects it to the Old Testament. (This blog provides a link to the Didache).
We talked about much, much more.
The second episode was Jesus walking on water. John 6:15-21. Our discussion was not as wide-ranging because one of us offered an insight that opened it up in a wholly new and fascinating way. In fact, the passage was what convinced him that Catholicism was true. This is what he saw. Initially, we imagine ourselves in the boat. Remember, Sts. Andrew and John (remember St. Andrew was part of St. John’s community and was instrumental in bringing about the writing of this Gospel) were in the boat. This is the Sea of Galilee at sunset:
The Sea of Galilee is approximately 8 miles wide and very long. They should have been able to cross it easily (the majority were, after all, professional fisherman.) Yet, they only got between 3 and 4 miles after at least 9 hours of rowing (Mt. 14:25). This was hard work and they were having an incredible difficulty doing it on their own without Christ’s help (starting to sound familiar?). Christ then appears. What does He say to them? All the translations that we had said, “It is I.” The specific words that He is reported to have used — the words that reflect St. John’s and St. Andrew’s living witness — were “I AM.” To Jewish ears, “I AM” meant one thing: that Christ was asserting that He was God. When He said this, what happened? “They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the [shore] to which they were heading.” John 6:22. Again, a more literal translation is more meaningful symbolically; instead of shore, the literal word is “land.” It reads: “[i]mmediately the boat reached the land at the place they were heading for.”
The echoes of “Promised Land” in “land” are evident. Remember, what happened when Moses and the Israelites first reached the Promised Land. They sent spies/scouts into the land to find out who and what was there. What they reported was fearsome (Numbers 13:26-33) (“ 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”)
As a result of the report, the Israelites were afraid to enter the Promised Land. They were so afraid that they doubted God’s promise to them and God was not happy. Numbers 14:26 ff. In John, Christ reminds them “Do not be afraid” as they move slowly and labriously toward the “land” to which they are heading in the face of serious physical danger. But once He is present and makes Himself known as God, they arrive immediately where they are going (note how St. John give us this detail — they didn’t just run aground.)
What does all of this mean? Two messages leapt out at us and as always they are related to each other. First, God’s grace is essential; we cannot get to the Promised Land without His grace. The disciples went practically nowhere — they rowed for nine hours (roughly) and only traveled, at most, four miles. “I AM” appears, removes their fear, and supplies the grace they lacked. What does this tell us? That we need to get out of the way of God’s grace; we need to trust that when we put in all of our effort and that is insufficient, we need to ask for grace and “I AM” will supply the rest. Second, God’s grace is efficacious. Immediately, they reached the Promised Land. His grace changes things in the real world; what are signs, instituted by Christ, that efficaciously make present the grace they signify? Sacraments. St. John’s gospel is very sacramental and this is yet another example.
As always, once Scripute is broken open, it yields so, so much.
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