Jesus is no Moses. (even though Moses was awesome!) Jesus is someone else entirely. God’s miracles are amazing – but the real miracle here is Jesus himself.
9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) – July 26, 2015 – John 6:1-21
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Not a What But a Who – Pastor Evan Davis
I want to tell you a story today about a man who rose from humble beginnings to speak words that terrified the most powerful people of his day. He climbed the mountain to speak directly with God. When the masses wandered with no idea where their next meal was coming from, he fed them. He taught them the ways of God and delivered his people from their enemies. And ever since then, a meal has been celebrated in his memory. Do you know who I’m talking about?
Moses, of course! Moses – a slave with a stutter. A man who could barely get any words out of his mouth at all, but by the power of God working within him, gathered the courage to demand Pharaoh to “let my people go.” The only one who could be in the presence of God on the mountaintop. The one who presided over miraculous signs of God’s power and terrible plagues…including the most terrible one, when God took the firstborn child of every Egyptian family, but “passed over” the houses of the Israelites who were eating the Passover meal in their homes, with the blood of the lamb marked on their doors. A meal still celebrated today. Moses – who prayed to God when his people were starving and God rained down bread from heaven – the manna which nourished God’s people for 40 years. The manna which was just enough for each day and no more. The manna which rotted if anyone stockpiled it for a rainy day. The manna that taught God’s people to trust in the LORD and the LORD alone, that taught them to stop thinking with a scarcity mindset, wondering if there will be enough, and learn to live with trust that with God as provider there is always more manna in the morning.
As you’ve probably learned by now, I love the manna story. It’s one of my favorites. It teaches us to live out of God’s abundance.
It’s a story I think the crowds along the Sea of Galilee had in their minds as they followed a different man of humble origins, Jesus who had been busy with his own great deeds of power. They were looking for a great prophet who was to come into the world – God’s anointed one, the Messiah. They expected a Messiah in the mold of Moses – a man of great power who could command wind and wave, heal the sick, feed the masses, and deliver them from their Roman oppressors. And Jesus feeding the 5,000 certainly fits the mold of that kind of Messiah. It’s the only one of Jesus’ miracles that makes it into all four gospels. It was an event that fit the expectations of these faithful people in the crowds, who as John reminds us are about to celebrate Passover, when they remembered God’s great deeds that fateful night and Moses as God’s prophet. How could the Passover meal not be in their minds as Jesus fed 5,000 men plus at least as many more women and children. How could the manna story not fill their minds as he turned their fearful questions of scarcity into amazing declarations that this IS indeed the prophet who is to come into the world?
These people lived difficult lives, in poverty, in submission, in humiliation. They were desperate for a great leader like Moses, and that’s who they saw in Jesus. That’s not a bad thing, because Moses was a great man of faith, and they needed someone who could change the circumstances of their lives.
Maybe we do too. Maybe we need a leader who can feed the crowds of our earth today, or just pay the bills at our house. Maybe we hope for a prophet who can lead us away from racism and mass shootings which filled the news I read this week, or at least help us get along better with our family members and learn to love them more faithfully. Perhaps we need a law-giver like Moses who can show us the way, give us the wisdom and the answers we need to the questions in our lives, or a healer like Moses who lifted up the bronze serpent and cured his people, a healer like Jesus, who can come and touch us wherever we suffer and make us well in body, mind, and spirit.
We have something in common with those crowds, but like them, we’re in for a surprise. Because this Jesus is way more than the prophet we expect. He’s far more than the Moses of memory. John fills his story with clues to let us know we’re dealing with someone else altogether.
Moses went up the mountain to ask God what God’s going to do, but Jesus came down to the crowds already knowing what he was going to do. Moses brought plagues upon the people of Egypt to secure the freedom of his people only. Jesus brings miracles of healing to the unholy, shares meals with the enemies, touches the unclean, forgives the unforgivable, and feeds the nations, without a care for what they’d done or what they believe. In John’s story, Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples “you give them something to eat!”, but he feeds the crowds himself. He does it personally. When they gather for this bread from heaven, they aren’t wandering in the desert, but they sat in a place with “a great deal of grass,” a wonderful pasture for the “good shepherd of the sheep.” When they wanted to make him a prophet-king to rule over the people like Moses, Jesus slipped away, unwilling to take that role. Interestingly, when Jesus returns back on stage, it’s on water. Whereas Moses parted the sea so that the people could walk on dry land, Jesus simply walks right across the stormy sea as if he’s strolling in a grove of olive trees without a care in the world. He’s not rescuing them and their terror seems to be more about Jesus than about the storm. And well, that’s about right, because what Jesus says next should terrify them. We translate his words, “it is I,” but what he says in Greek is much more jaw-dropping, ego eimi, I AM. God told Moses at the burning bush that his name was “I AM,” and that’s the name Moses could drop in the courts of Pharaoh. Jesus uses the divine name of God for himself. Now it’s not just Moses on the mountain, but the disciples in the boat and the crowds on the green who come face-to-face with the one true God.
The crowds may have expected Moses, but they got Jesus. And while this story shows us a God who can work miracles, and we need those miracles, that’s not primarily what it’s about. It’s not foremost a moral lesson to teach us to trust God to provide for us. And neither is our faith. Because when we fail to trust God’s power, when we fall into the trap of scarcity-thinking and we hoard God’s blessings as if we have earned them and they belong only to us, when we fail and act selfishly and succumb to fear and anger and maybe even hatred, when we are powerless before a disease that we cannot control, we need more than a moral lesson. We need God.
And that’s what this story is about, not just this one, but the whole gospel of John, it’s about the God who would not stay away, the God who so loved the world that he showed up himself and included all our suffering and death into his own life. Maybe we want answers or solutions, and sometimes we get them, but what God offers us first and foremost and finally is himself, in the flesh, as living bread, as living Word.
The One who meets you in Word and water, bread and wine, is not a what but a who. A person. Jesus. What God gives you is not a plan, not an answer, but himself. Walking the dusty ways of life with us, all the way to his cross. All the way through the cross to the empty tomb. What Jesus gives you, is the one thing you cannot find or create for yourself, and that’s being loved by the one who holds your destiny and meaning and worth in his hands. He gives you a promise of love, of relationship, of a future with hope that only he can give. An encounter between you and the one who is called I AM, in which you are met, and accepted, and loved unto death, as you are, as you were marvelously made, today. This Christ is deeply and truly for you this day. Amen.