Readings: Acts 5:34-42; Psalm 27; John 6:1-15
We begin reading chapter 6 of Saint John's gospel, which recounts the sign of the miraculous feeding, Jesus walking on the water, the crowds following him to the other side, and the great discourse on the bread of life which serves as an interpretation of the sign. Many of the resurrection encounters have strong Eucharistic overtones, most explicitly the one at Emmaus where the disciples recognised him in the breaking of the bread. In the life of the Church, where the Risen Lord continues to be present with his people, it is particularly in the Eucharist that we are with Him and He is with us.
So Jesus feeds a large crowd with five loaves and two fish. Seeing that they were going to come and carry him off to make him their king, Jesus withdrew to the mountain alone.The fear is that they wanted to imprison him as their king, imprison him in the understanding and exercise of kingship which their traditions had taught them to expect. He is the Messiah, they say, the Prophet like Moses. It is true that he is to be priest, prophet, and king but on his terms, on the terms set by the Father, and not on their terms, the terms that would imprison him within their own understanding and expectations.
Jesus escapes because his hour had not yet come. There is more work to be done before the hour comes. Most of that work is pedagogical, he needs to teach the people, telling them more about the sense in which he is a king. In the hour of his passion he is literally taken by force and he is crucified, ironically, as their king. We heard all this again on Good Friday, the debate with Pontius Pilate about the kingship of Jesus: 'are you the king of the Jews?' 'my kingdom is not of this world.' 'so you are a king then?' 'It is you who say it.' 'Jesus the Nazarean, the King of the Jews.'
In the midst of that dialogue about his kingship two sentences jump out, 'defining moments' in a drama of many defining moments. 'We have no king but Caesar', say the Jewish authorities, in the heat of the trial against Jesus. They are effectively renouncing their faith in the Lord, the God of Israel, who had been their only King from ages past.
Ironically also Jesus is crucified as their King, a charge that is meant to mock him but which actually states the truth to which he had come to bear witness. The Jewish leaders are not amused: 'You should have written 'This man says 'I am the king of the Jews''. And another sentence jumps out: 'What I have written, I have written'. So Jesus is held up before all the world and forever as King of the Jews, the promised Messiah, who is also the prophet long expected and the priest who offers the one and only acceptable sacrifice of love and obedience.
We need to be warned again and again about the danger of idolatry, even as we claim to be followers of Christ. It is very likely that in wanting Jesus to be our king we will imprison him, get him in place as a symbol of interests of our own. Under pressure, and in the heat of daily struggles, we may find ourselves realising that our king in actual fact, and contrary to what we profess with our lips, is one or other of the 'Caesars' we are tempted to worship - some pleasure, power or arrangement which is the real god of our lives.
We must seek to live in the kingdom of truth: this is the currency and wealth of the kingdom of Jesus. He came to bear witness to the truth and in the first part of the discourse to follow he speaks of the wisdom and understanding with which, as our 'bread of life',.he nourishes us. Gamaliel, famously, takes the enlightened and liberal position: if it is from God this movement will continue, if it is from men it will fizzle out by itself. The apostles, and the Church, continue to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus and their witness shows that this movement is indeed from God. We have no king but Jesus, as the Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate, in spite of themselves, help us to realise.