by miriam berg
Chapter VI

(John 6:1-15)
This is the tale of how Jesus fed the five thousand on five loaves and two fishes. Now this time we find in the Synoptics not merely a parallel account, but two parallel accounts: in Mark 6:32-46 and paraIIels in Matthew and Luke the story is virtually identical in all details down to the disciples' lament over spending two hundred pennies and the twelve baskets of leftovers; in Mark 8:1-10 and Matt. 15:32-39, the number of the multitude is four thousand, the original number of loaves is seven, and the number of baskets of leftovers is also seven.

Now the first account is almost certainly the same tale as that in John, or at any rate from the same source, perhaps one was cribbed from the other or vice versa. But John again, in his zeal to deify Jesus, comments that Jesus "knew what he would do", when he asked the disciples how they might buy enough bread.

The second account in Mark and Matthew is puzzling; is it a retelling of the first with different number symbology, or did Jesus perform the miracle twice, as indeed he might have done? But that is not our subject; all we note here is that John stuffs words of foreknowledge into Jesus' mouth, which do not appear in the Synoptic accounts. And again, as with the water into wine, where is the moral and ethical teaching? What does it prove about righteous conduct if Jesus fed thousands on a few loaves, or even if the truth of the matter was that people had selfishly hidden their food, and his willingness to share his little caused them to relent and share theirs as well, as some scholars have suggested?

We note here also that the people refer to Jesus as a prophet: "This is of a truth the prophet that cometh into the world." We note further that Jesus immediately withdraws into the mountain after the event, with John's comment that it was because they wanted to make him king. But Mark's account also reports that he went up into the mountain afterward to pray, with no mention of the question of becoming king. John's story presents some curious contextual problems; we are told that he went up into the mountain and sat with his disciples (v. 3), then the irrelevancy that the Feast of the Passover was at hand (v. 4), and finally that the five thousand sat down on the grass (v. 10) which sounds like a flat place rather than a mountain; then he goes up in the mountain again (v. 15), implying that he must have come down to a level place to divide the loaves and fishes anyway. But finally verse 16 follows verse 3 contextually:
(John 6:3) And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there he sat with his disciples;
(John 6:16) And when evening came, his disciples went down unto the sea;
so that it may even be that the story was inserted into John, lifted from Mark, which is certainly an older gospel, because of its magical theme.

(John 16-21)
The story of the loaves and fishes is followed by the story of the walking on the water, in John as well as in Mark with its parallel in Matthew. The story is the same in essential details, including the words of Jesus; only Matthew reports the detail that Peter tried to walk also and had to be rescued by Jesus.

But about this tale, as with that of the loaves and fishes, and water into wine, we must ask, where or what is the moral teaching? If it is possible to walk on water, why has no one else since, though the Christian pantheon is crowded with saints? Even if Jesus could walk on water, so what? it heals no one, and teaches us nothing about how to live our lives. Is it only a symbolic tale, about how Jesus was above our earthly being? Or did Jesus do it as a sign to prove he was the Messiah? But that is clearly contradicted by the Synoptics, where he categorically refuses to give a sign (Mark 8:12), and says to the elders who question his authority, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things (Mark 11:33).

Again, which report should we believe? Did Jesus both say he would not give a sign, and say he would? Is it more likely that Jesus said he would not, and then his worshipful followers put words of interpretation into his mouth, or that he said his works were signs, and someone invented the pronouncement in Mark 8:12 and Matt 16:4, or Matt.12:39 and Luke 11:29? Which part of John can we credit, if he misinterprets Jesus in regards to signs? What are we to think of the fact that so far in John's narrative we have found only five miracles, and only two of those which are healings, and three of which are magical or supernatural, and all of which are proclaimed as signs, compared with the report of the Synoptics that he healed many on many occasions, and that he said it was by their faith? It is true that the narrative of the Synoptics does report a few magical occurences, the calming of the storm, the finding of money in a fish's mouth, the cursing of the fig tree; but these are obscure and irrelevant in the overall flow of the Synoptics' narrative and their portrait of Jesus, whereas John makes them central. Whose picture shall we believe? or can we believe either? Jesus must have said one or the other, and not both; and it is much more likely that he would have said he would give no sign, and his followers interpreted his works as signs, and made him say that they were, than that he claimed his works as signs, and the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke invented his refusal to give a sign. So how much credence ought we to give to John?

(John 6:22-26)
Here we are told that the people seek for Jesus, and he scoffs at them for seeking him only because of eating of the loaves and fishes. Is this the loving and compassionate man, who said, Blessed are you poor and hungry, ye are the salt of the earth and light of the world, and who wept over Jerusalem, as in the following passages?
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which ki1leth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto thee! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a mother hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not! (Luke 13:34-35)
      And when he drew nigh, he saw the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)
Do we accept this Jesus of John who cannot speak without claiming divinity or disdaining someone, or the Jesus of the Synoptics who is entirely the opposite, who says to the women following him to the cross:
Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.
as reported in Luke 23:28?

(John 6:27-70)
Jesus continues with a long discourse about his being the bread of life, which is argued with by the people, and we are told that many of his disciples "went back and walked no more with him". One thing we have seen about John's narrative is how many arguments Jesus gets into, and how petulantly he contradicts and carps at his critics. Certainly the Synoptics report also that he was an outspoken and blunt teacher, but the difference is that in those books Jesus is confident and not petulant or querulous, his retorts are in everyday images (wells, wineskins, pennies with pictures of Caesar) rather than in mystical symbols of bread of heaven and water of life and his blood and body which they are supposed to eat; and he never equates himself with God, but consistently and compassionately speaks to the people of God their Father. Which is the more believable? or which is the more admirable? So far in the gospel of John Jesus has never once referred to God as "thy" Father, as he so often does in the Synoptics, but has consistently referred to God as his own Father, or as "the" Father which is clearly a more evolved theological viewpoint.

Also at this point we may observe that we have encountered four discourses: with Nicodemus, with the woman of Samaria, with the Jews in Jerusalem after healing the lame man, and now with his disciples about the bread of life. But we still have not had a single parable, though the Synoptics tell us that he spoke not but in parables; we have not been told that the multitudes flocked to hear him, as is reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in fact the Jesus of John appears to have been rather arrogant and disdainful of whom he will speak to, and how; nor have we heard that he taught far and wide in all their synagogues and with authority, not as the scribes as reported in the Synoptics. Now did John simply forget all the parables? or did he invent the mystical discourses? or did Matthew, Mark and Luke just overlook them? How can we account for this pronounced difference in style between the Jesus of John and of the Synoptics? Can both be true? Can we reasonably doubt one or the other? Is it more likely that the simple parables are original, or that the complex theological symbolism of John is from Jesus? Can we believe that Jesus said both, and each evangelist remembered distinct parts which only appeqr to be irreconcilable, or is it more likely that John is giving us his interpretation of whatever words he remembered or were reported to him (since there is no evidence that the author of John was the disciple John)?

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