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Readings: 27 July 2012 - 8th Sunday after Trinity

20 July 2012


8th Sunday after Trinity

Proper 12: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6.1-21

Almighty Lord and everlasting God, we beseech you to direct, sanctify and govern both our hearts and bodies in the ways of your laws and the works of your commandments; that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

THIS little-known story of Elisha involves an unexpected gift from an unknown man who made a miracle possible - we will never know how far he travelled to fulfil his obligation to bring the first-fruits, or if he realised how urgently his gift was needed. This prefigures the story of Jesus's feeding the crowd, which depends on an unknown boy's offering, on the face of it, a pointless gift: six months' wages were inadequate; so why bother with a packed lunch? It took courage by Andrew to make such a stupid suggestion, but, sometimes, reckless courage is needed to unlock a miracle.

If the provision for 5000 was a miracle, then so were the leftovers, which comprised far more than the boy offered. I wonder what the disciples did with this tangible reminder that God not only met needs, but provided in abundance. This early example of not letting anything go to waste raises questions. Do we throw out food too readily? Do we recycle all we can? There is also a spiritual application: do we miss part of God's blessing through failing to gather up the fragments around us in daily life?

The satisfaction of the crowd is juxtaposed with the later terror of the disciples. Both wanted to do something to Jesus. The crowd wanted to make him king; so, to avoid being thrust into the political arena, Jesus withdrew to be alone. The disciples wanted to take him into the boat, once he had calmed them down. Enigmatically, John does not tell us whether Jesus let them do this (unlike Mark, who says that he complied), but simply reports that, immediately, the boat reached the land towards which they were going. For John, Jesus is never someone to be controlled by others.

For a few weeks, we switch from Mark's action-packed Gospel to John's more reflective Gospel. John does not let the miracle of the feeding go unremarked, but uses it as the basis for Jesus's teaching about the bread from heaven. Intertwined with this are questions about Jesus's identity, which, in John's Gospel, is proclaimed openly, and people must respond rather than guess at the secret that Mark makes it.

These two miracles involve creation, and are foretastes of the ultimate healing of creation in Christ. Paul looks forward to this when writing of the glory to be revealed: "The creation was subjected to futility . . . the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8.18-21).

Storms were stilled, water bore the weight of Jesus walking on it, bread and fish fed more than they should, the sky darkened at the crucifixion, and the earth shook at Christ's death and resurrection. Here was a person whose relationship with the physical creation was not scarred by the effects of sin. Creation responded to his presence.

Stories of the relationship between the saints and the physical creation are part of our heritage; whatever we think about otters warming St Cuthbert's feet, birds nesting in St Kevin's hand, wild beasts becoming docile, timid animals frolicking joyfully with saints, these stories illustrate this theological understanding, that God's redemption in Christ restores all of creation to its intended freedom to flourish.

This is a very holistic understanding of salvation's including, but not restricted to, humans: "All that is created longs to participate in the divine glory" (Jürgen Moltmann, History and the Triune God, Crossroad, 1992). The Eastern Orthodox Church sings to Christ on Holy Saturday: "The whole creation was altered by your Passion, all things suffered with you, knowing that your Word holds all things together in unity"; and, in the Easter vigil, sings the words of John of Damascus: "In Christ's resurrection the whole creation is established and made sure."

As we pray to be open to the riches of God's grace, on the one hand, we pray with the author of Ephesians for power to comprehend the scale of God's love which surpasses knowledge, so that we can be filled with the fullness of God; on the other, we are reminded to be attentive to God's blessing of creation, to offer what we have, however little, and to notice and gather the fragments that are the surplus abundance of God's goodness

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