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John 6:1-4, NIV1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him . . . .
March 6, 2011Jesus withdrew. Would the crowd follow him into the country and up the side of the mountain? They loved Jesus for what he could do for them, but how far would they go to see his miracles? Could we also say that Jesus loved them because of the work his Father had given him to do?
Everyone who has ever loved another, knows that love can be a difficult task. Yet in our normal, everyday lives, we don't usually like to admit or acknowledge that love is work. Depending on what kind of job a person has, they may dread going to their jobsite, or whistle their way there. Our reaction to the phrase, "the work of love", is determined largely by our attitudes shaped by past experiences with either work or love.
When either work or love is good, we are eager to go there (or at least OK with it). But when things get rough, we fantasize about running the other direction. Jesus, in this text, seems to be trying momentarily to escape from his work. He is rowing the other way, testing to see if his work will catch up to him.
And of course, it will. It always does. Because "what the world needs now is love, sweet love. . . ." In our loving we break the world down into smaller parts--neighbors, co-workers, public servants, defenders of our freedoms, volunteers, friends, children, parents, sweethearts, life-long partners. All of us together need love, and also need to engage in the work of loving each other.
Like Jesus, we may try to get away for awhile, but the work keeps finding us, showing up on our doorstep, returning for more. Love is good work. It's what our Father in heaven does, and it's our privilege, often our joy, to do the same.
More journal entries
January 1, 2002
Jesus is on the move, traveling by boat, across the sea of Galilee. Multitudes followed, presumably on foot. That made for very slow travel. It's hard to move with only 4 to 6 people, much less a large crowd. All these people followed him because Jesus performed miracles of healing. Today we have miracles in our hospitals. But in Jesus day, medicine was much more primitive. Miracles in hospitals or at the touch of Jesus, means getting a new lease on life. To be rid of leprosy, or blindness, or heart problems is like a resurrection.
Then Jesus went up into a mountain, where the sick could not follow, and there he sat (and taught) his disciples. The Passover was near. John is setting the stage for another great discourse.
March 2, 1983Jesus, plus his disciples plus a large crowd of people. I imagine the crowd filled with the poor and needy who had no jobs or enticements to keep them at home. The sick seeking health; the handicapped wanting to be whole. The humble who were not too proud to follow; the lovers of excitement wanting to see what would happen next; the sincere who thought Jesus just might fulfill their hopes for salvation; the troublemakers who tried to prevent anything good from happening; the curious who came to watch everyone else; the busybodies and gossips.
All these labels, now I've done it again. How I love to put people into a category and size them up. I should just leave the crowd to God, who loves each one as an individual person instead of pressing them into a preconceived mold.
Jesus crossed the lake--that made it extremely difficult for others to follow. There just weren't boats available for mass transportation. How far was it to walk around the Sea of Galilee? Jesus, you were trying to lose them, weren't you! Either you weren't successful or these are new people from the other side of the Sea who got caught up in the excitement.
Imagine following Jesus like this, leaving your home territory, not knowing where Jesus was headed or if you'll get home by nightfall. Where would you eat, and sleep? It seems like these things suddenly seemed unimportant compared with the frenzy of following Jesus.
March 9, 2011On the Christian calendar, Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, and Lent is preparation time for the death and resurrection of Jesus. In this text, the Gospel writer thought it significant to inform us that the celebration of Passover was drawing near. Does that mean that Jesus and his disciples needed some time apart, away from their daily routines, in order to focus on the true meaning of the upcoming holy day? Most of life goes better when we take some steps to get ourselves ready for what's coming up.
Passover was an annual event in remembrance of the events recorded in Exodus 3 to 13. Moses was the leader who challenged the Egyptian Pharaoh and led the Israelites out of bondage and across the Red Sea into freedom. It's a powerful and dramatic story which has been retold to every generation and is still celebrated in Jewish homes today. (History is written by the victors, the events for the Egyptian people were dreadful and full of sorrow.)
Passover is a festival, a happy time. In the days of Jesus, every able-bodied person who lived within a few days journey of Jerusalem, tried to make the trip to the Temple. Families traveled the roadways together and caught up on the news and happenings of the past year. These people lived under the Roman occupation, so the ancient story of victory over their enemy contributed to the holiday spirit.
The message of the Passover is God's deliverance. God remembering his suffering people and miraculously coming to their rescue. God breaking open the hardened heart of the Pharaoh. God parting the waters of the Red Sea and making a way for the Israelites' escape.
Passover is about remembering, and making sure that no one ever forgets this story. Passover is about God remembering to deliver his suffering people. Passover is also about hope, because if God delivered his people in the past he could, and just might, do it again, soon.
You might recall in an earlier chapter that John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The lamb is also an image from the Passover celebration. The blood of a lamb is what saved the Israelites from the angel of death on the night of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
John, the gospel writer, highlights the Passover Feast in each of the three years of Jesus' ministry, beginning with the year Jesus made a cord with which to drive out of the Temple courtyard all the merchants and money-changers. When the events of this chapter are completed, Jesus and his disciples will go again to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. In the meantime, it is wise to prepare.
March 8, 2011The crowd followed Jesus because of his miracles. What was the self-interest of the disciples? Why did they follow Jesus? Did the disciples have better reasons than anyone else? Or was it simply because Jesus looked them in the eye and said, "Follow me."?
Jesus withdrew from the crowd and went up the side of a mountain. There he sat down with his disciples. I wonder what that looked and sounded like? What did people back then do to relax? Maybe like us, Jesus and his disciples sat around and told funny stories. Or maybe it wasn't just idle time; maybe Jesus had some important things to tell his closest followers.
The disciples shared an intimacy with Jesus that the crowds did not. Within that intimacy, they would have learned to care deeply for Jesus as a person.
I followed Jesus as a child because my parents did. In my youth I continued along that pathway--I can't explain why at the moment; it would require a lot of introspective thought to answer that one. Then throughout my adult years, several times I left Jesus for awhile, but always I came back. I had doubts about the validity of faith and the Scriptures, and questions that needed some honest soul-searching. Also I was hounded by thoughts that by following Jesus I was missing some other things in life that I might want to experience.
Why do I keep returning? Like a magnet, Jesus pulls me back. I am happiest when Jesus draws me close. And so today, it is my choice to sit with the disciples, gathered around him in an intimate setting. Open to the great blue sky, the trees and wildflowers and the wonderful view of the Sea. Open to the words of life spoken by my Lord and Master. Open to the love of my heavenly Father.
Being in the crowd is lively, stimulating, and you meet all kinds of people including some grumblers. The crowds that chase after Jesus are brimming with noise and excitement and you hear things you would not otherwise know. There's also the kind of buzz which you don't know whether you should believe it or not.
But I prefer the quiet beauty of the mountainside, feeling safe in his presence. Jesus will know how to handle any problem. Jesus can help me be at peace with myself and the world. With Jesus on the mountainside I can soak up the sunshine as I soak up his love.
Being with Jesus on the mountainside is not the end of all things. It's just a temporary reprieve. Because Jesus will shortly lift up his eyes and see the noisy, persistent crowd approaching. And then the work of love will resume, the hard work of facing life as it is. The hard work of remembering in the valley, to live by the words I heard on the mountainside. The hard work of sharing the love of Jesus with anyone who will receive it.
I know as I write this, that if I really lived these words, I would not do most of what I had planned for this day! On the contrary, I would be on a mission today to really be a disciple of Jesus.
I also know that one hour spent with these few verses is not nearly enough. I would need to stay with this text days, months, years--only then could the Word take hold and put to death all that is not of God and bring to life all that God intended for me.