Look! A squirrel! (Sermon on John 6:1-21)
Preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, SD
“Look! A squirrel!” That’s a shorthand way of saying, “Look out, they’re giving us trivial distractions to keep us from looking at what’s most important.”
In our interminable warm ups for the next presidential election, plenty of squirrels are pointed out. Instead of significant policy positions and debates, we get extended news coverage of candidate “tone,” bumper sticker slogans and whether or not a candidate can say something as banal as “All lives matter” without offending this or that group of lives.
“Look! A squirrel!” is one way to evade a challenging Bible passage. John’s account of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people is our Gospel today, and it’s been the source of squirrel sightings for many years.
It works like this. Instead of reading the text in detail, the preacher points at the Enlightenment squirrel. “We don’t believe in supernatural stuff, so this was no miracle.”
“Well, then what do we make of it, Father?”
And Father dutifully points to the moral squirrel. “It is a story about selfishness being overcome by sharing.”
“Whaddaya mean, Father?”
“Well, it is clear that there was plenty of food carried by the crowd. If the little boy had fish and bread, so did all those other folks. And when he handed his over to share, all of the selfish people were shamed and produced their hidden munchies, leading to a great potluck. Oh, and Jesus blessed it because sharing is good and selfishness is bad. So it was a holy meal and Holy Communion reminds us to share.”
Squirrels, squirrels everywhere, but nothing there to eat.
If we give John a fair read, we find out that WE are the ultimate squirrel. It isn’t a practical, moral, human-centered story at all. Post-Enlightenment, or Humanism, or Liberal Theology, or SJW or whatever - it’s all wrong for the proper proclamation of this Gospel. The God-breathed words of the text point not to us, but to Jesus as the source of all that matters.
+ It most certainly is about God’s supernatural intrusion. The crowd was following Jesus because he was doing signs (v. 2). He was healing, multiplying loaves and fishes and, before it’s all said and done, walking on water. The people react to the feeding as a sign by a Prophet “coming into the world”, not a moral lesson drawn from the “normal” world (v. 14).
+ John tells us that only Jesus knew what was happening - he asked Philip how to feed the crowd, but “he himself (Jesus) knew what he would do.”
+ Jesus calls the shots. He tests Philip. He speaks in imperatives - “Make the people sit;” “Gather up the leftovers.”
+ Jesus does all the work. This is a point of emphasis unique to John. Matthew 15:36 says that Jesus, as he blessed and multiplied the food, gave it to his disciples who carried it into the crowd. John says, Jesus then 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 (v. 11 ESV). That’s not a contradiction, as it doesn’t deny what Matthew detailed. But John focuses in on Jesus as the source, the power, the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. John’s not saying, “And Jesus walked up to each individual in the crowd of 5,000;” but he’s making clear that we don’t need to look at the method of distribution so much as at the source of the abundance.
+ Jesus sets the agenda. He leaves when the crowd wants to make him king.
+ Jesus is the focus. The crowd doesn’t extol a generous young man with some fish and bread, but Jesus who worked the miracle. “This is indeed the Prophet…” “Let’s make him king!” And Jesus, walking later on the lake, calms the disciples’ fears by pointing to himself: “It is I…”
When we come together for Holy Communion, Jesus is the focus of this holy and miraculous meal, one he created so that he would be known among us.
His blessing and presence make our simple bread and wine into a participation in his sacrificial death for us.
His grace, received by faith, lets this food become his eternal life in all who share it worthily.
There are plenty of squirrels to see. We can look out the windows, or around in the church, or anywhere in the wandering places of our minds. May our Heavenly Father give us the Holy Spirit, so that we can ignore the squirrels and look upon Jesus, really present with us here and interceding for us in highest heaven, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns in glory everlasting. Amen.
Share this story:
Recent Related Posts
Are you reading this?
Advertising on Stand Firm works!
Click here for details.