The Sabbath conflict and the Feeding of the 5000: The fourth sign

12/27/2012 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…

The year is fast escaping us as we continue our series on the the seven signs that Jesus performed which are related in the Gospel of John.  If you have just now joined us, we recommend reading:

Changing water into wine:  The first sign, Healing of the Official’s son:  The second sign, and the Healing of the paralytic at Bethesda: The third sign, parts I and IIfor additional context, as well as bookmarking or subscribing to The Mint for updates as we move through this important series.

On the Sabbath

After relating the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda, John, who had a knack for such things, relates word for word what Jesus said to religious leaders as they rebuked him for healing the paralytic on the Sabbath.  What is ironic about this rebuke, and all of the other instances where Jesus is accused of breaking the Jewish Sabbath, is that Jesus did not perform work in the sense that you and I may think of work.

For instance, he simply told the paralytic to get up, take his mat, and walk.  To the Pharisees who observed this, they quickly saw that Jesus’ speech had caused something to “generate,” in this case, the paralytic’s ability to walk.  In this strict sense, nearly any biological activity undertaken to sustain life would throw one into conflict with the fourth commandment.

As John’s careful choice not to name the specific feast which Jesus is intending implies, Jesus’ specific order to the man to pick up his mat and walk was done in direct challenge of what many rabbis of the day saw at the top of the list of Sabbath violations:  Carrying something outside of one’s home.

The Hebrew words used in the Bible when the Sabbath decrees are given which are translated as “work”, kol-m’law khaw, mean “all and any kind of creative ‘generative’ endeavor, changes to the environment or any object.”  Given this strict definition, it could be said that taking food or drink could lead to a change in the environment.

Given the impossibility of compliance, the Pharisees and other Jewish sects had taken to interpreting the Sabbath restrictions in a way that suited what they deemed necessary to maintain their particular lifestyle.  What they were objecting to, then, was the way Jesus chose to observe the Sabbath.

It is the same today.

For any who struggle with how to obey the fourth commandment, Jesus gave the following advice in Mark 2:27, which is the final word on the subject: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

At this stage in Jesus’ earthly ministry, John began to see what Jesus meant when he declared earlier, in Chapter 2:19 “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  For Jesus had come not to destroy the Jewish nation, but their misguided form of worship, of which the Sabbath observance had become a prime example.

As most agreed that everything Jesus did was good, those who opposed Him had to cling onto when He was doing it in order to prove that He was a traitor and working to subvert the Jewish nation.  Yet Jesus did not intend to destroy the Jewish nation, nor to save it in its present form, rather, he came that we might know that YHWH loves us, and that His forgiveness is unconditional.

This was to prove exceedingly important when the Romans finally decimated Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Hailing back to Isaiah’s time, some 600 years earlier, the Jewish people had been nearly decimated.  The Temple that Solomon had built had been destroyed and along with it, the central focus of the worship of YHWH.  This blow would have meant the end of both a religious system and the ultimate loss of the national identity of those who worshiped YHWH.  Had it not been for the rich Jewish oral tradition, the writings of Isaiah which were carried into Babylon, and rise of the synagogue system in the exile, the Jewish nation would not have survived.

Instead, the Jews quickly adapted to what amounted to, “the sudden disappearance of this avenue (the Temple) of communing with God,” which was a “tragedy of awesome dimensions,” (quotation of Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, Ktav Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1991) and came out of it stronger as a nation.  Judaism took on a new dimension and flourished in the Babylonian exile with prophets such as Ezekiel building upon the understanding that YHWH desired mercy and not sacrifice.

600 years later, with a new Temple funded by Herod, the Jews were falling again down the slippery slope of sacrifice and confining YHWH to the trappings of a building.

Feeding the 5000

After the healing at Bethesda, we are told that Jesus again returned to the Galilee and this time went to the other side of the sea of Galilee.  However, as we observed earlier, Jesus had attracted quite a following in Jerusalem.  John observes that a great multitude” had followed him because of the healings that He had performed.

While many had been healed, Jesus seemed to be more concerned that people not sin rather than that they eat the the right foods and stay healthy.  He did not even seem that concerned with their safety or how they spent their money.  His focus was on avoiding sin, yet he seemed to know that people would have trouble doing this.

From a glance at all four the Gospels, it would appear that Jesus passed much time in the Galilee teaching on the mountains surrounding this picturesque sea.  It is during this time that He preached the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ longest recorded discourse in which He laid out the central tenets of discipleship.  This life changing discourse can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7, and must be read and understood by all humanity.

During this time, Jesus receives news that John the Baptist has been killed.  This must have shaken Jesus, not because it surprised him, but because He knew that his time was short, and that the scriptures must soon be fulfilled.

In preparation, Jesus withdrew by boat to a solitary place near Bethsaida to seek YHWH.  He knew that it was time to go deeper.

Predictably, many people followed him to this solitary place near Bethsaida.  Those who followed had come not only to hear Jesus, but in many cases they were there hoping to be healed of a physical ailment, and His hasty withdrawal gave them, too, a sense of urgency.  They hurried after him and many did not bother to make adequate preparations for the journey.

Again, it must be understood that curing physical ailments was not Jesus’ primary intention.  His intention was to draw people to himself that they might be drawn away from sin.  This is what took place at Bethsaida.

Jesus Feeding the 5000 by an unknown artist
Jesus Feeding the 5000 by an unknown artist

It is during this time of deep teaching that Jesus brings out what at the time was his most divisive teaching, one so profound and challenging that it caused a great deal of his disciples to turn back in dismay.

As the multitudes approached Him, Jesus chose to approach this teaching via the fourth sign recorded by John in Chapter 6:5-14:

After these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias. A great multitude followed him, because they saw his signs which he did on those who were sick. Jesus went up into the mountain, and he sat there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone of them may receive 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 these among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to those who were sitting down; likewise also of the fish as much as they desired. 12 When they were filled, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces which are left over, that nothing be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 When therefore the people saw the sign which Jesus did, they said, “This is truly the prophet who comes into the world.” 15 Jesus therefore, perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

On the surface, the feeding of the 5000 is a miraculous answer to a grave logistical problem caused by the crowds haste to be near Jesus.  Yet it had such a great impact that it is recorded in all four gospels.  However, Jesus did not intend this miracle to be the focal point of the lesson, He wanted to teach His disciples, the 5000, and all who woul listen the following lesson:

That He is the bread of life.

They didn’t get it, and they tried to make Him King by force.  Jesus withdrew again to the Mountain alone to be near to YHWH.

The lesson was so important that it would require a second sign and a challenge, one that would force his disciples to become the first ones to cross the watershed mark of human history.

They had to decide, then and there, who Jesus was to them.  Was He a madman, a witch doctor, or the Son of the Living God?

Stay tuned for the fifth sign and Trust Jesus.

Stay Fresh!

David Mint


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