In his letter to the Ephesians Paul prays that “we might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God”
That is a powerful prayer and our gospel reading today leads us some way to actually grasping, if only momentarily the enormity of God’s power and love. The feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water are so familiar to Christians that I suspect we have lost the impact they were intended to make.
In verse 4 John writes that “the Passover was near”. Now this provides us with our context and a strong lead as to the significance of what is to follow. He cites the Passover as a signpost to the deeper aspects of what is taking place here. The Passover was a celebration of God’s great rescue plan for the Jewish people in bondage in Egypt.
So here John is alluding to the fact that in Jesus God’s great rescue plan for the entire creation is taking place before our eyes. In John’s view, God’s promises, his covenant that the world will be forgiven, saved and transformed is being inaugurated right here, right now.
John may well have written “Those who have ears, let them hear”.
The feeding of the 5000 demonstrates power but also love and compassion for people with real needs. It also demonstrates God’s intention to follow through and make good on promises made throughout scripture, especially Isaiah. The love and compassion of God is so bountiful that even after the entire crowd were satisfied, there were 12 basketfuls of food left over.
So overwhelmed were the crowd that they tried to take Jesus by force and make him king but Jesus wouldn’t play ball. Not because he wasn’t a king but because his true coronation was still to come.
Jesus was crowned king when God raise him from the dead. That was his coronation. His kingdom was not the tiny geographical country of Israel. His kingdom was of a different order and magnitude and magnificence entirely. His kingdom corresponds to His Love, God’s saving and transforming Love, for the whole creation and it is that sheer, magnitude that Paul prays that we may comprehend.
The gospel story then tells of Jesus walking on the water and this too is one of John’s famous signs that points to something far greater than itself. It is a demonstration of God’s authority and power over all things. In the Hebrew worldview water symbolised the forces of disorder and chaos and walking on water is a demonstration of God’s power and dominion over all creation.
When the terrified disciples saw Him walking towards the boat Jesus said. “It is I. Don’t be afraid”. The phrase translated in English as “It is I” is literally “I AM” which is also an invocation of the name of God “YHWH”.
For the true significance of this event we need to turn back to the first chapter of Genesis and to read that in the beginning God’s Spirit hovered over the waters to create order out of chaos. In Jesus dwelt the creator of the universe.
In the coming of Jesus Christ we see the action of God who had come to redeem and transform the world. All the signs in John ultimately point towards the cross and resurrection.
Christianity is not just another religion, to set alongside Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism. The coming of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus is a definitive and unique act that releases the whole world from bondage to death and decay and is released into new life. The new era, long heralded and hoped for by the Jewish people had happened. It really happened. This is the good news.
With the power of faith in that good news Paul says that Christ is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
We can do great things together when we allow the good news of what Christ has done to transform us into a temple to the living God.
It is our privilege to be living in the period between the event through which God inaugurated the “new Creation” in Christ and the final consummation when God will be all in all – to work for that Kingdom now. The church is the place where heaven and earth meet symbolised by the partaking of bread and wine symbolising the body and blood of our saviour and king.