After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberius Sea). A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.
“After this,” that is, after he healed the man by the pool of Bethesda and the confrontation with the Religious Elite because it took place on the Sabbath day, Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and a large crowd of people went with them.
As we noted yesterday, the feeding of the five thousand is another picture, another signpost, pointing to the fact that G_d’s promised Realm was breaking into the world mystically through Jesus. As we see in this story, G_d’s Realm is not just about the “spiritual life,” or “going to heaven when you die.” It’s about delivering people in this life. It’s about taking care of the needs of creation here and now. Jesus feeding the multitudes is a poetic image of what the world looks like when G_d rules “on earth as it is in heaven.”
And, on one level, the people got that message. They were going to “force him to be their king.” If this is what life is supposed to be like (and it is), then we’ll start a violent revolution and overthrow the Romans (which were understood as pagan and, by extension, non-human) and those that sympathized with them (the Religious Elite who were not meeting their needs but making themselves fat off of Rome).
Jesus refusal to allow them to make him their king shouldn’t be seen as a denial of the political side of this vocation. Quite the contrary. He certainly was (and is) the world’s true king, but not in the current understanding. That is, he was not going to do kingship the same way as before. He was doing it differently.
And by that we shouldn’t assume that the Realm of G_d is “just” spiritual. Far from it. The powerful works of Jesus, not least the feeding of the multitudes, points that out quite clearly. As we said, the Realm of G_d is not about “going to heaven when you die,” but about the rescue and reconciliation of our world. Every aspect of it.
The reason Jesus ran away from them was precisely because he wouldn’t be the king in the way they wanted him to be king. They wanted a king just like the other nations (sound familiar?), but on their side. So they could take out their vengeance on the pagan occupiers. In Luke’s description of Jesus riding into the Jerusalem on a donkey’s foal, we see this quite clearly:
As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.” (Luke 19.41-44)
So G_d’s Realm is indeed for all the world but not “of this world.” That is, it doesn’t follow the patterns of the world. But it is for this world. Those systems, too, must be rescued. Jesus was showing what that world looks like when G_d’s Realm is fully established “on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC