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Gospel for Sunday, July 25: John 6: 1-15

XVII Sunday B

1After these events, Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, that is, Tiberias, 2and a large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he performed on the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4Easter, the Jewish feast, was near. 5Then Jesus looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him and said to Philip: “Where can we buy bread so that these people can eat?”. 6He said this to test him; in fact he knew what he was about to do. 7Philip replied to him: “Two hundred denarii of bread are not enough even for everyone to receive a piece.” 8Then one of his disciples, Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, said to him: 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what is this to so many people?”. 10Jesus answered: “Make them sit down.” There was a lot of grass in that place. So they sat down, and there were about five thousand men. 11Then Jesus took the loaves and, after giving thanks, gave them to those who were sitting, and he did the same with the fish, as much as they wanted. 12And when they were satisfied, he said to his disciples: “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing is lost.” 13They gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over from those who had eaten. 14Then the people, seeing the sign that he had performed, said: “This is truly the prophet, the one who comes into the world!”. 15But Jesus, knowing that they were coming to take him to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain, he alone.

John 6: 1-15

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John

Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John has continuous references to the body and blood of Jesus. To understand it well, we must immediately answer a central question: does it deal with the need to adhere to Christ with faith or does it tell us about the Eucharist?

John dedicates five chapters to Jesus’ last meal with his children, without telling us about the institution of the Eucharist. This silence has given rise to very different interpretations: some theologians, such as Bultmann, state that in John there would be a clear anti-sacramental tendency, a reaction against the primitive Church which considers sacred rites as automatic means of salvation. Already the school of Alexandria, in particular with Origen and Clement, had given an allegorical interpretation from chapter 6. Others, however, state that John, writing at the end of the first century, takes the Eucharistic practice for granted in his community, and therefore considers it appropriate to exegete it with the parallel story of the washing of the feet (both consist of a rite, accompanied by words of explanation and by the invitation to repeat the rite itself…): this is the position of those who, like Cullmann, see great sacramental interest in John. The Reformed Churches, with Luther and Calvin, will speak of chapter 6 as relating to the “education of faith”, while Catholics will side with the purely sacramental interpretation.

Interesting is the position of those, such as Brown and Léon-Dufour, who affirm that the theme of the sacraments is present in the fourth Gospel, but that the central announcement remains that of the mystery of the Incarnation: the sacraments are important to the extent that they unite us to Christ, the incarnate Word; John is more concerned with showing us the spiritual fruits of the sacraments than with dwelling on the rites: this position can help us to read chapter 6 with wisdom.

The multiplication of the loaves

The chapter begins with the story of the multiplication of the loaves (Jn 6.1-15). The narrative has as its background the book of Exodus, to which it continually alludes: the passage of the sea, the multitude on the move, the mountain, the bread, implicit quotations from the text (Ex 3; 16; 33…) and from the rabbinic tradition on it.

The annotation of verse 4: “The Passover was near” (Jn 6:4), indicates to us that we must read this chapter in an Easter context. In chapter 2, during the First Easter, when Jesus, purifying the temple, also hunts animals for sacrifice (Jn 2.15), the focus was above all on Christ as the new sacrificial victim. Here a second sign of the Jewish feast is further underlined: the “mazzoth”, the unleavened bread. In Deuteronomy (Dt 16.3) they are presented as loaves of affliction, the bread of the oppressed who cannot afford the leavening time; but in the Exodus (Exodus 12.39) they are the bread of liberation, which occurred so quickly that the slaves did not have time to bake normal bread. Both of these meanings of unleavened bread are taken up by Jesus.

“Jesus went up the mountain and sat there with his disciples” (Jn 6:3); the mountain is the place, in the Old Testament, where the Presence of God resides: on Sinai he reveals himself (Ex 19,18), on Mount Zion he lives in the temple (Ps 87; Is 2,2-5; 1 Kings 8,11…). Jesus proclaims that he is the Place where the “Shekinah”, the Glory of God, now definitively manifests itself. Before him are the hungry crowds: not only for bread, but also for the meaning of life, for healing, for peace, for happiness (Jn 6.5).

Jesus puts to the test (the “test” is a typically Exodic theme: Ex 15; 16; 20; 32…) his Church, inviting her to feed these people. And his Church immediately starts making human calculations, thinking about how to solve the problem according to worldly logic (Jn 6.5-7). Jesus completely displaces her, preparing the messianic Easter in his omnipotence: he orders the crowd to lie down (Jn 6.10: “anapesèin” is not being seated, but lying down, the attitude of free men during the meal), he places it on a “place with lots of grass” (Jn 6.10: an oddity… in the desert, but a clear allusion to the Messianic Kingdom: Ps 72.16; 23.1-2…), preparing the lavish and overabundant banquet of the “Day of YHWH” (Jn 6,11-13: cf. Pr 9,1-5; Is 25,6-12; 55,1-2; Rev 19,9,18), for a total of five thousand men (Jn 6 ,10: the eschatological Easter is no longer celebrated in the family, as required by Ex 12,3, but in community).

The story reminds us of the miracle of Elisha (2 Kings 4.42-44): there a hundred loaves were enough for a hundred men, now five loaves are enough for five thousand. Jesus is much greater than Elisha: he is the “prophet who is to come into the world” (Jn 6.14), the eschatological revelation of God promised to Moses (Dt 18.15-18). The bystanders, awaiting a strong and powerful Messiah, want to make him king: the episode of idolatry of the Israelites in the desert is repeated (Ex 32), when they try to worship YHWH according to the idea and image they have formed of him: the golden calf, symbol of strength and wealth. The Jews are willing to accept the Christ they expect, the one that suits them: but Jesus will only be the true King on the cross. And Jesus’ ascent “up the mountain, all alone” (Jn 6.15) is a prophecy of the ascent of Golgotha alone, abandoned by all (Jn 16.32).

The Lord makes his disciples experience his glory, to prepare them to accept the shocking logic that will make him bread broken to be eaten, and which also asks them to become bread for their brothers, becoming their servants (Jn 13). The passage therefore has strong references to the Eucharist: John explicitly mentions “giving thanks” (Jn 6.23), that is, “giving the Eucharist”, and speaks twice about the “place” (“There was a lot of grass in that place ”: Jn 6.10; “at the place where they had eaten the bread”: Jn 6.23), a Jewish synonym to indicate the Presence of God and the Temple.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

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Spazio Spadoni

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