Saturday, July 18, 2015

Five barley loaves

John 6:1-21 is the opening piece of the extended "bread" narrative that will be with us for the next 5 weeks.  In typically Johannine fashion, this story has multiple levels of meaning, which will be important to us as we go deeper and deeper into this story as the weeks progress.

(The following sample questions are examples from my guide to Law and Gospel preaching which can be purchased simply by clicking on the image on this page.  These questions are meant to stimulate thought into how the Word performs both the function of Law (You need Jesus) and Gospel (Here is Jesus) in each of the pericopes assigned.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?   Both Law and Gospel are evident in this text.  The Law is evident in the doubts and fears of the disciples, illustrated so clearly in their skepticism regarding the feeding of the crowd, and then again in their terror on the rough seas.  In each of these scenes, we can see clearly persons who need Jesus.  The Gospel is also evident as Jesus, in each case, comes to the aid of these needy persons - providing them with bread for the hungry, and calm to the storm.

2.  How is the Word not functioning?  The third function of the Word is what is sometimes termed "the call to obedience." This is the word which invites us to live in a certain way in response to the Gospel. There is no such word here.  We will need to look at other texts to fill this out in our sermon.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We have two choices:  The disciples or the hungry crowd.  Since the church is often identified as the disciples in John's writing, I choose to identify with the disciples.  That means I will assume their position of skepticism and fear.  If I were to choose to identify with the crowd, I would assume the position of hunger.

4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Our imagination is our only limiting factor here.  Couplets that come to mind are Doubtful/Faithful; Scared/Reassured; Hungry/Fed.

5. Exegetical insights:  I often find interesting Sakae Kubo's analysis in A Reader's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT.  Kubo has compiled the number of times each word is used in the Greek NT and assembled them by biblical verse in his book.  Through his work we can see that, even though this story of the feeding of the five thousand is present in every gospel, only in John do we have the detail "barley loaves."  This little detail gives us a hint of John's agenda.  Barley was the grain used in bread-making by the poorest of the poor.  What John seems to emphasize by using this term is that even tiny amounts (mustard seed amounts) of the poorest bread can be blessed by our Lord and used to provide abundant blessing to a hungry world.

6. How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  If you go to study you can see several fine examples of the crossings community's analysis of John 6:1-21.  Archived under 2009 Year B Gospel, 8th Sunday after Pentecost, Marcus Felde offers one example. Then under 2012 Year B Gospel, 9th Sunday after Pentecost, Paul Jaster offers another.  It is interesting to compare two very different takes on this text.

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