Kings, Power and Feeding Five Thousand: This week’s lectionary featured both John’s recounting of the feeding of the five thousand, and the story of David, Bathsheba, and the Uriah the Hittite. I was quite intrigued by the story of Jesus escaping the crowds attempt to make him king against the background of David using his kingly power to force Bathsheba into a sexual relationship and then killing Uriah, when Uriah fails to help him cover it up. As a result, I didn’t spend as much time on Jesus as the bread of life. However, there are four weeks of John chapter six remaining, and I will be digging deeper into that during that time frame.
You can find my sermon for last week, which also deals with the feeding of the five thousand, Mark’s account, over here.
Sermon: Proper 12
6:14 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.”
6:15 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.
This week begins a five week journey through the sixth chapter of John, and attempts to answer the question what does it mean to say: That Jesus is the bread of life. We will be getting into that later in this sermon, but first I want to take some time to consider our Old Testament reading for today, and what the people are thinking when they say they want Jesus to be their king.
This is a story we need to look at. It’s quite easy for us to let this story go by. Particularly when most of our preachers are men. It’s inclusion at this point in our lectionary means it’s quite easy to skip over it because we have this really meaty portion of the Gospel of John coming up. But we need to deal with this, because it tells us something about kingship and what the people were thinking.
Kings do as They Please
It starts with the line “It was Spring the time when Kings go out to war.” Not David, though, he’s back in the comfort of the palace. We shouldn’t miss the significance of this, for it was only a few weeks ago when we read about David being made king, that one of the reasons the people gave for making him king, was that while Saul was king in title, it was David who was going out and leading them in battle. He was doing the job of the king, even when Saul was the king. Now, we have David and he is staying back in the palace while everyone else goes out to fight. He has forgotten what it means to be the king.
Next he sees Bathsheba, and decides he wants her. So being the king, he takes her. It doesn’t matter that she is married, David is the king and he takes what he wants. Of course things go even more wrong when Bathsheba informs him a few weeks later, that she is pregnant.
David’s first response is to cover it up. He calls Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband back from the battlefield. He serves him a great meal and tells him to go home to his wife. He hopes that this will provide him an alibi when the baby is born. Unfortunately for David, Uriah has the integrity that David lacks.
One of the things were told about Uriah, we’re actually not told a lot about him, but we are told he’s a Hittite. Now if you go back to the Israelites entering the promised land, those are people they are supposed to have driven out, as they had no respect for God or people. Yet, here’s Uriah displaying this integrity.
You know, my general and my fellow soldiers are out in the battlefield, The Ark, Uriah has more respect for the Ark of the Covenant and what it stands for, than David does at this moment. So David says, OK that didn’t work. I’ll get him drunk. Surely when I get him drunk, then he’ll go home. The only problem for David is, that even drunk, Uriah has more integrity than David. Even drunk, Uriah realizes he should not be taking his liberty while his fellow soldiers are out there in the darkness and the battlefield.
So, neither of those things working, David sends word to Joab to leave Uriah isolated so that he is killed. David wants to cover-up things so much, or to make his own way(with Bathsheba) clear, that he is willing to sacrifice not only Uriah, but as you read the rest of the story, there are others who are killed in the process of this battle as well. It’s the term collateral damage being used. So, Uriah is killed and David thinks he’s gotten away with it.
But the thing is: This is what it means to be king. This is what kings do. They see something they want and they take it. Doesn’t matter what Bathsheba’s wishes are, David sent for her, she better come. It doesn’t matter that she is Uriah’s wife. David is willing to deal in deceit and death to keep his little secret.
And here’s the real kicker, David is one of the good kings. David’s not just one of the good kings, I mean if you read on after Davids death and the rest of the kings of Israel before captivity, you’re going to find some really, really bad kings in there. David is the king that the people have in mind when they want to make Jesus king. David is the model. It’s no wonder Jesus wants to get away. He knows what earthly kingship means.
He knows what it means to rule with power and control. To take what you want, when you want. It’s interesting that last week we read the story of Nathan coming to David, before we actually read the story of David and Bathsheba. I think there’s a tendency in our lives, particularly as we approach this story, to forgive David a little too easily.
We read other places that David was a man after God’s heart, and we say, well he made a mistake. But our story tells us more than that. It tells us about David, but it also tells us about being king, and what being king does to people. Saul forgot what it meant to be king, and the people said, ah, well now we’ve got David. But David forgot what it meant to be king. If you go back, and I recommend that you do this, read Deuteronomy chapter 17. It says in there that there are rules for being a king in Israel, and you will see how that is effected and played out in King David’s life.
As king David used his power to exploit. Used his power to take what he wanted, and we shouldn’t gloss over that. We need to realize that what David did as king (in regards to Bathsheba, and afterward Uriah) was wrong, full stop.
So, what does that mean for us, and with Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand, and with Jesus not wanting to be taken and made king by the people. So, let’s go back to the feeding of the five thousand and think about it a little more. Much like the story as it’s recounted in the other gospels our story today begins with great crowds of people following Jesus, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the poor.
So, one of the interesting things here, John uses the term signs. He doesn’t use the term miracles, he doesn’t use the term healing. He use the word signs, and that’s important, because for John signs are meant to point towards Jesus. To point to the new kingdom that has come into the world in Jesus. The crowds have been following him around because of that. He sits down and he teaches, and as he sees the crowd coming he says to his disciples: “Where are we going to get food for all these people.”
This is another thing that happens all the time (in relation to the feeding stories). How are we going to feed all the people. Jesus’s first concern is for the crowd. He’s concerned for their well-being. We get the same responses, “Well you know, I don’t know what we can do. Look at all these people, it’s too much money, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Andrew brings along the kid with the fish and bread, “Got someone here five loaves, two fishes, 5,000 people. I’m not really good at division, but I don’t think that’s going to feed everybody.”
But notice the question, notice the part at the beginning. Jesus asks the question, but he already knows what he is going to do. It says there is a large field of grass there, and Jesus tells the people to sit down. The actual word is recline, which is the word for how you come to the table for dinner. It’s a word that suggests a meal together.
A meal, in this case, isn’t whatever came out of the microwave. That we can eat fast so that we can get it done. A meal is an evening spent together. Jesus is concerned about the people. Not only does he feed them, but he gives them this chance to dine together, to relax, to recline.
Then we hear about the bread. Jesus says the blessing, the bread is distributed, and the fish is distributed. Again, everybody has enough. Again it’s this idea of everybody is satisfied. And when we think about power and think about control dissatisfaction is one of the things that people use to maintain power and control.
You know the scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle in the Narnia series, where the dwarves have had this great banquet spread out for them. It’s all the finest foods, but little but little they are starting to suspect that somebody is getting it better than they are, and eventually all this great food goes to waste and they convince themselves that they are being fed dirt and other such disgusting food.
Dissatisfaction is what we use to help control people. The king is good at pitting one faction against the other. I think our reading of the kings of Israel will remind us that Game of Thrones was in progress long before George Martin ever came along.
But here in this feeding of the five thousand, everyone is satisfied. There is no need to look over there and say, “Oh, that person has more than me,” or “why did they get that, how come they got blueberry pie, and I got stuck with Lima Beans. Everyone is satisfied. That’s a mark of the new kingdom. That’s a mark of how things are meant to be different with Jesus. Everyone is satisfied.
Of course, one of the things that comes in all the feeding stories is that there is an abundance. Scarcity, that which our modern economics system is built upon, says to us, we’ve got to make sure we have enough for ourselves, even if if means denying others. But here in the feeding of the five thousand, when everyone is fed, then everybody is satisfied, not just fed, everybody is satisfied. They go around and pick up the crumbs and there are still 12 baskets left over.
The kingdom being inaugurated by Jesus as opposed to the earthly kingdoms, is one where we believe in abundance, where we know there is abundance. Where it says in Ephesians: Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, that’s the mark of God’s kingdom. That’s the mark of the kingdom Jesus come to inaugurate.
This is not a kingdom where the king takes for himself what he wants, when he wants, with no concern for whom it harms. This is a kingdom where satisfaction is meant for all. Where abundance and sharing are meant for all.
So, as we continue to go on in this chapter, and continue to ask ourselves the question: What does it mean that Jesus is the bread of life? What kind of life is Jesus offering us? It’s meant to be a life of satisfaction. It’s meant to be a life of abundance.
But that only works if were actually able to put that into practice in our own lives. It only works if we are willing to reject the idea that the kingdom of God is something that gives us power. That because we have God on our side, we have control. That we can steamroll over those who disagree with us. We can put up barriers to those who look at the world differently. Jesus comes, and as he demonstrates at the feeding of the five thousand, he comes to share with all. He comes for all to be satisfied. He comes to pour out form his abundance, and it’s for us to live that out in our lives. To learn better what it means to be part of God’s kingdom. What it means to say that earthly kingdom, while they may do much, will never help us come closer to God. We will never know what it means to truly love one another, to truly serve one another unless our citizenship unless our citizenship and loyalty are to Christ before all others.
David was a good king, yet even as a good king he did terrible things. Jesus comes to show us we don’t need good kings, we need servant hearts. We need the one whose idea of kingship was to go to the cross. To be part of God’s kingdom is to be willing to serve and to sacrifice, and to pour out our whole being in love. Amen.