- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories - Emmanuel: God With Us – Life for Creation and Humanity
Spending time at the beach is a favourite pastime during the summer months. Watching the waves come in and hearing the sounds as the sea flows and ebbs is so regular and relaxing. Sitting on the shoreline wrapped up in quiet thought it is hard to imagine that what we are looking at is so vast and so powerful.
Relaxing on the beach, we do not think much about the bigger picture. The Bay of Fundy can be 52 kilometers across and up to 250 meters deep. The Atlantic Ocean itself in places is almost 8 kilometers deep and 5000 kilometers wide. It covers almost 20% of the earth’s surface. Now that is big.
Often, what we see in our lives is such a small part of the bigger picture. John’s Gospel in chapter 6 poses this problem for the crowds that followed Jesus as well as for his disciples. As John presents the story he begins by telling us that Jesus is being followed by a large crowd of people, “impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick.” (Jn. 6:2) The Gospel goes on to describe another wonder, as Jesus feeds the large crowd. Struck by this miracle they acclaim him as a prophet and seek to make him king. (Jn.6:14-15) He flees into the hills to escape them, while the disciples set out to row across the lake.
The story does not end there, another wonder. A storm comes up on the lake and they encounter Jesus walking on the water toward them. The next day the crowds find Jesus and his disciples on the other side. They are baffled and overwhelmed by what is happening. Jesus, points out that they may be following him because of the wonders and signs, but there is more to it than this. John then begins to relate Jesus speaking to them with a central truth of his message and mission: “I am the bread of life…” (Jn.6:35-69).
Many in the crowd and even some of the disciples found that the message was too much to accept. They could not accept what Jesus was saying as it was too vast a claim and took them far beyond what their faith tradition would allow them. It was an ocean of meaning. Yet many stayed with him. What was the attraction?
As John closes this chapter, he reveals what the attraction is. Jesus lives in a relationship with a loving, life-giving God and his mission is to proclaim this to others through his life, words and actions. For many this was a challenge. Their vision of God was focused on God’s transcendence, the distance of the divinity. The disciples were discovering in Jesus signs of the immanence of God, the closeness of the divinity – Emmanuel (God with us) is our acclamation.
“Bread” is a simple and common element of life. Yet for the early Christians who speak to us through John’s Gospel the food and feeding symbolizes the core of life in our world. To eat “the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” is to receive the life, divine life that Jesus offers to humanity. In doing so we recognize the gift of the life-giving love of our God to all. This is the message and mission of Jesus that we have been given as disciples. We are to share this amazing Good News. Being life-giving to one another is how we share it.