We start our reading this week with a sign only recorded in the Gospel of John—and we end with the only miracle story to be recounted in all four gospels.
Let’s dive right in to the first one: the pool-side healing of a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus asks the man—and indeed, all of us—a critical question: “Do you want to be made well?” On the surface, it seems like an odd question, but it’s one worth asking of ourselves and of others. When we ask for help, what are we truly asking for?
Later in the day, Jesus sees the man in the crowd again. This time, he issues a warning to the man: “Do not sin any more.” Our wellness is a gift from God, but God also calls us to repentance—to turn to a different way of living, one that helps us become spiritually well.
The man doesn’t seem to like Jesus’ words, so when the religious leaders ask why he is breaking the rules of the sabbath, he throws Jesus to the wolves, basically whining, “Jesus made me do it.”
This isn’t the first or last time in scripture that Jesus verbally spars with the religious leaders over the letter of the law versus the Spirit. He turns the argument on its head with his first line: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”
In chapter 6, we hear the beloved story of the feeding of the five thousand. This story is a favorite in the repertoire of most Sunday School programs, and deservedly so. On the face of it, Jesus sees the need, the hunger, of the people, and he responds. Further, he uses the gifts of one of the least likely, a young boy, to serve others.
Of course, this is much more than a nice story about the surprising proliferation of bread and fish. Jesus both harkens back to the story of Moses and the manna in the desert but also foreshadows important eucharistic themes. Par the course, the people want to make him king instead of understanding Jesus as the embodiment of love. So Jesus heads to the mountain, perhaps to have some (literal) one-on-one time with God the Father.
He soon returns to the sea and the shores and back to the extended metaphor of bread. Jesus says to the crowd, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Over the next several verses, Jesus elaborates, repeats, and explains. Folks don’t seem to understand—and we can’t blame them really. Many of us struggle with this message today, and we know the whole story, including the resurrection; the people on the beach are hearing this for the first time. The disciples even tell Jesus, “This teaching is difficult.” True. But also, the Truth.