Posts Tagged ‘symbol’

JOHN 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward 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.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Miracles are dangerous because the lead us to believe that God acts through the suspension of physical laws, interrupting the cause-and-effect chain of events that we take to be ordinary and natural. Thus our words ‘extraordinary’ and ‘supernatural’ for naming the miraculous. The problem with this explanation is that it drains the miraculous from what is, in fact, not an ordinary universe at all!

But when we come across accounts of the miraculous in the scriptures and folklore of religion, our responsibility is to ask more than whether or not this really happened. The writer of the Fourth Gospel acknowledges the critical importance of this ‘something more’ when he refers to the miracles of Jesus as “signs” – things or events that point beyond themselves for their full value and meaning. We can get hung up in a debate over the scientific accuracy of this account, or we can follow the indication of the sign itself. What is it really saying? Where is this miraculous feeding of five thousand directing our meditation?

The writer is drawing a parallel between the New Testament prophet-messiah Jesus and the  First Testament (the so-called ‘Old’ Testament) prophet-messiah Moses, under whose leadership the exodus community had been liberated from slavery in Egypt. In that earlier era also, God had provided miraculous meals in the desert.


The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

This divine shepherd in whom the psalmist found his life, peace, and hope – is this reality continuous or possibly even identical with the saving grace that later Christians found in Jesus? We must not lose sight of what is probably the central precept of religion: that the ultimate reality and divine Mystery at the heart of things is revealed to us not directly but only through the mediation of the world itself.

In his early life as a shepherd himself, David found a relevant analogy for his relationship with and dependence upon God: his deeper security, rest, salvation, and joy were visibly revealed through the otherwise ordinary realities of a shepherd’s world. The poet’s sense of God’s loving providence was not merely an abstract notion “illustrated” by some objects round about, but rather was touched and known as materialized in these meaning-laden forms of experience.

Was it wrong for the early followers of Jesus to see in him the incarnation of this self-same grace and divine power? The symbol that reveals the Mystery behind all things itself becomes incorporated into the Mystery, as one of its “names.”