After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. -John 6:1-21
The Self-Guided Retreat this week focuses on the the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. Some comments on the Crossing of the Sea are found below, in dark gray. -sg
Because the lectionary gives us five consecutive Sundays of Eucharistic themes from chapter six of the Gospel of John, I’ve collected quotes and gathered them into five topical meditations for the five weeks. Usually, I choose writings of men and women of various centuries, and the three prompts follow a three-fold pattern of "introit, illumination, and integration." For the text on the multiplication of loaves and fishes this week, however, I simply could not resist this elegant exposition by Augustine comparing the limitations of feeding us with bread with a transforming word.
Unlike bread, a human word feeds the minds of all the gathered without diminishing the giver or lessening the portions for each person (Meditation One). The incomprehensible Word of God, not spaced or squeezed, fills millions of angels and the virgin’s womb (Meditation Two). In a different sermon (Meditation Three), Augustine writes that a word transforms mere bread and wine into the sacramental Word, the body and blood of Christ. Furthermore, those of us who receive this gift become what we consume. The Last Word encourages us to go out as that Christ Body, to heal, to nourish, to comfort, to respond to real hunger in a suffering world.
Meditation One (Introit) More Get Less
Are you asking me what the Word of God is? If I wanted to tell you what the word of man is, I can’t explain it, I get tired, I get stuck, I give up; I can’t even explain the power of a human word. Look here, before I say to you what I want to say to you, the word is already in my heart.It hasn’t yet been spoken by me, and it’s with me.Then it’s spoken by me, and it reaches you, and it doesn’t depart from me. You’re all intending to hear a word from me; I’m feeding your minds when I speak.If I were bringing you food for your stomachs, you would divide it up among yourselves, and it wouldn’t all get to each of you; but you would divide up what I set before you into the more portions, the more of you there were; and the greater the number of those receiving it, the less each would get.
(continued in Meditation Two)
Loaves and Fishes, Byzantine Mosaic, Sea of Galilee
Filled with terror by my sins and my load of misery I had been turning over in my mind a plan to flee into solitude, but you forbade me, and strengthened me by your words. To this end Christ died for all, you reminded me, that they who are alive may live not for themselves, but for him who died for them. See, then, Lord: I cast my care upon you that I may live, and I will contemplate the wonders you have revealed. You know how stupid and weak I am: teach me and heal me. Your only Son, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, has redeemed me with his blood. Let not the proud disparage me, for I am mindful of my ransom. I eat it, I drink it, I dispense it to others, and as a poor man I long to be filled with it among those who are fed and feasted.
Augustine Confessions, Chapter 10:70
detail, Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1500
For a long time, without understanding why, I had found a particular fascination in these gospel stories of Jesus and his disciples upon the sea. While the context and details vary, in each of these stories one feels the surging forth of a majesty, a gravitational force, from Jesus, which silently reorders the cosmos around him. Suddenly in the midst of a churning universe, this man appears, a diminutive light in the immense darkness, and everything comes into harmony around him, all the tumult subsides into a wondering hush where he stands. We find ourselves in the presence of one who seems to have stepped out of John's prologue into the midst of the world's dark disorder, and swallowed it up in his peace. A sovereign center, gently emanating this mysterious power to which all being must respond, is revealed here in Jesus.
-Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine (p. 64-5)
Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Mosaic, Sant Apollinare Nuovo, c.504, Ravenna, Italy
Meditation Two (Insight) Not Spaced, Not Squeezed
Now, though, I’ve brought food along for your minds: I say, “Accept it, take it, eat it.”You’ve accepted it, eaten it, and not divided it up.Whatever I speak, it’s all there for all of you, and all there for each of you. There you are, that’s how its impossible to explain satisfactorly the enormous power a human word has, and you ask me what the Word of God is?The Word of God is feeding all those millions of angels.It’s their minds being fed, their minds being filled.It fills the angels, fills the world, fills the virgin’s womb; it isn’t spaced out there, it isn’t squeezed tight here. What is the Word of God?Let him tell us himself, the only begotten, the only Son, let him tell us himself what the Word of God is.He puts it very briefly, but what he says is something tremendous:I and the Father are one (John 10:30). I don’t want you to count the words; weigh them.More words won’t help to explain the one Word.
-Augustine of Hippo 354-430 Sermon 237, The Works of Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, John E. Rotelle, author,Edmond Hill, translator, 1993
Syrian Mosaic, c.400
Meditation Three (Integration)
We Are That Which We Receive
Dear Brethren, that which you see on the Lord’s table is bread and wine. But when a word is added, that bread and wine become the body and blood of the Word. Because the Lord, ‘who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ – because that same Lord, in His mercy, did not despise that which He had created to His own image, ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ As you know, that word assumed human nature by assuming a human soul and a human body, and thus became man without ceasing to be God. In this way, He suffered for us, and He has left us His body and blood in this sacrament. He has even made us His body, for we have become the body of Christ. Through His mercy, therefore, we are that which we receive.
Augustine Sermon 6, Selected Sermons
The Last Word
There feeding the angels, here on earth a hungry child; there unfailing Bread with perfect powers, here, along with speechless children, needing the nourishment of milk; there doing good, here suffering evil; there never dying, here rising after death and bestowing eternal life on mortals.God became one of us so that we might become God.
-Augustine The Fathers of the Church, 1959, quoted from A Eucharist Sourcebook, LTP
The Crossing of the Sea and Bruno Barnhart
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. -John 6:16-21
Whatever the 21st century equivalent of swooning is, I do it over passages from a book on John’s Gospel: Bruno Barnhart’s The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center(Paulist Press, 1993.) No matter how small your personal spiritual and Biblical library is, this book belongs there.
The Good Wine contains a most extraordinary commentary upon the Crossing of the Sea. These ten pages are hard to describe because Bruno presents his points in imagery that begins one way and then loops back from another direction, leaving more depth as it weaves back, like thread on a loom. Not only that, but the overall pattern is a mandala, so that you must see the whole of the book to appreciate the parts. His writing is gorgeous. (You should see my poor, much-loved beat-up volume!)
Bruno argues that the story of Jesus walking on the sea centers the whole of John's Gospel, which lays out in a chiastic form. Thus, the crossing of the sea becomes the primary image around which all the other images in John's Gospel radiate in concentric circles.
Within the darkness and chaos of creation, the “I AM” does not part the sea but walks upon it and subdues it. This new exodus inaugurates a new creation. As on the first day of creation the immanent presence of Jesus evokes the “Let there be light” of Genesis 1:3. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. John 1:5.
The “I Am” is spoken, in the manifestation upon the sea of Galilee, by the creative Word that was in the beginning, according to the prologue, and that now appears in Jesus, striding over these dark waters which recall the primeval chaos of Genesis 1:1. (p.67)
All beginnings are born together in this place where, in darkness, the light shines over the waters. Here the world originates from nothingness; here the Word is generated from the invisible fullness of the Father, then shines in the night of the creation. Here, again, begins the new creation within the divine darkness and within the darkness of created being.
This meeting place of sea and land, of air and water, of light and darkness, becomes the boundary of boundaries. ... (p.70)
Within these ten pages, Bruno also references Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, contemporary psychology, liturgy and baptism. What a feast!
And somehow your own soul engages this cosmic event:
Here upon the dark waters, at this boundary, is the place of awakening, of compunction and metanoia, the place of silent meditation and of creative inspiration. Here in this darkness is the womb of creative life. It is the place of poverty and expectancy, the place of all potential. Here we are all fishers. And here in our poverty we are in touch with the dark depths of God, from which the light is born into our world. (p.70)
Bruno Barnhart (1931-2015) was a Camaldolese Benedictine monk.