The closing line to John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves we read yesterday was: “Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone” (Jn 6:15). Both Jesus and the people knew the Torah. In Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Moses shared that he was not the seal or end of prophetic tradition, he like John the Baptist pointed to one that will be greater than he. As the five-thousand ate they talked among themselves, many may have then recalled how God fed the Hebrews in the desert, manna, bread from heaven. The miraculous multiplication mingled with the manna remembrance, comingled with the already growing messianic hope, led the people to believe that Jesus was the “Prophet, the one who is to come into the world” (Jn 6:14), and then they rose to make him their king.
Recognizing their motivation and lack of understanding of the fullness of the kingship he would indeed assume, Jesus withdrew back higher up the mountain upon which he saw the people coming to him in the first place. The people presumably camped where they had eaten since evening drew near. Separation occurred between Jesus and the people because they moved to make him into something he was not. He refused, as he did during his fast in the desert, to give in to the temptation of power, pride, and honor. In so doing he was helping the people to understand who he is and the true Messiah he came to be.
Jesus and his disciples would be reunited in the midst of the rough sea of Galilee. Already full of anxiety, because they were being tossed about by the waves, their fear grew as Jesus came closer to their boat, walking on the water. He calmed them as he said, “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Jn 6: 20).
The people, the disciples, nor us today fully comprehend Jesus, for he is the fullness of humanity and divinity. He is not ours to tame. Jesus comes to us, is present to us, he loves and is willing to walk among us through all our trials and tribulations, as well as our joys and exaltations. Though, what he will not do is be untrue to himself or to who he calls us to be. If we want to be fulfilled in this life, we need to let go of conforming Jesus and others to our image and likeness. Instead, with humility, accept the great gift he offers to us which is participation in his life, such that we become conformed to his will. We need to decrease, so that he may increase. We need to die in him, so that we may live with him.
In our willingness to surrender to the will of Jesus, we are able to keep our eyes focused on him. This does not mean our life will be perfect. There will continue to be challenges and conflict, in actually, the closer we come to Jesus they will increase, because we live in a fallen world. The difference is that we will experience the closeness of Jesus in the midst of going through our conflicts, trials, and storms in life. We will grow stronger in our faith and trust in Jesus, and be more able to help others along the way to do the same, because through our collaboration in the life of Jesus we are aligning ourselves with the infinite power and ground of our being. In our participation with Jesus and through his power working through us, we can be an agent of stillness and calm, even in the midst of the storms of our everyday lives. “Be not afraid!” Trust in Jesus!
Painting: “Christ Walking on the Water”, Julius Sergius von Klever, early 1900’s
Link for the Mass readings for today: