Lectio Divina: John 6:16-21
1) Opening prayer
also in our day we need men and women
filled with the Spirit of love and service
who are attentive to the needs of people.
Let them listen even to the unspoken cries
of people too timid to voice
their poverty and distress
and help without condescension
their brothers and sisters of Christ,
for He is our Lord for ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - John 6:16-21
When it was evening, the disciples of Jesus went down to the sea, embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, "It is I. Do not be afraid." They wanted to take him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.
• Today’s Gospel narrates the episode of the boat on the agitated sea. Jesus is on the mountain, the disciples in the sea, and the people on the land. By his way of describing the facts, John tries to help the communities discover the mystery which envelops the person of Jesus. He does it by recalling texts from the Old Testament which refer to the Exodus.
• At the time when John wrote, the small boat of the communities had to face a contrary wind both on the part of the converted Jews who wanted to reduce the mystery of Jesus to prophecies and figures of the Old Testament, and on the part of some converted Gentiles who thought that it was possible to have an alliance between Jesus and the Empire.
• John 6:15: Jesus on the mountain. Having seen the multiplication of the loaves, the people conclude that Jesus is the awaited Messiah, because according to the hope of the people of the time, the Messiah would have repeated the gesture of Moses: feeding the people in the desert. For this reason, according to the official ideology, the crowds thought that Jesus was the Messiah, and, because of this, they wanted to make Him king (cf. Jn 6:14-15). This request of the people was a temptation for Jesus as well as for the disciples. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus obliges the disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the lake (Mk 6:45). He wanted to prevent them from getting contaminated with this ideology. This is a sign that the “yeast of Herod and of the Pharisees” was very strong (Mk 8:15). Jesus faces the temptation with prayer on the mountain.
• John 6:16-18: The situation of the disciples. It was already night. The disciples went down near the sea; they got into the boat and headed toward Capernaum, on the other side of the sea. John says that it was already dark and that Jesus had not arrived as yet. On the one hand he recalls the Exodus: to cross the sea in the midst of difficulties. On the other, he recalls the situation of the communities in the Roman Empire: with the disciples, they were living in the dark, with a contrary wind, and the sea was agitated, and Jesus seemed to be absent!
• John 6:19-20. Change of the situation. Jesus approaches them walking on the water of the sea of life. The disciples are afraid. As happens in the story of Emmaus, they did not recognize Him (Lk 24:28). Jesus gets close to them and says, “It is I! Do not be afraid!” For those who know the story of the Old Testament, here again John recalls some very important facts: (a) He recalls the crowd, protected by God, crossing the Red Sea without fear. (b) He recalls that God, when calling Moses, declares His name, saying, “I am!” (Ex 3:15). (c) He recalls also the Book of Isaiah which presents the return from exile as a new Exodus, in which God repeats many times, “I am!” (cf. Is 42:8; 43:5, 11-13; 44:6, 25; 45:5-7).
• For the People of the Bible, the sea was the symbol of the abyss, of chaos, of evil (Rev 13:1). In Exodus the people go across toward liberty, facing and conquering the sea. God divides the sea with His breath and the crowds cross the sea, which is dry land. (Ex 14:22). In other passages the Bible shows God who conquers the sea (Gen 1:6-10; Ps 104:6-9; Prov 8:27). The sea was an immense part of nature, more powerful than man, and at any time or turbulence could swallow up those on it. To conquer the sea means to have control over even the most powerful nature on earth. In this passage Jesus reveals His divinity by dominating and conquering the sea, preventing the boat and His disciples from being carried away by the waves. This way of evoking or recalling the Old Testament, of using the Bible, helped the communities to recognize the presence of God in Jesus and in the facts of life. “Do not be afraid”!
• John 6:22. They reached the desired port. They want to take Jesus into the boat, but it was not necessary, because the boat touched the shore where they were headed. They reached the desired port. The psalm says, “He reduced the storm to calm, and all the waters subsided. He brought them overjoyed at the stillness, to the port where they were bound.” (Ps 107:29-30).
4) Personal questions
• On the mountain: Why does Jesus seek to be alone to pray after the multiplication of the loaves? What is the result of His prayer?
• How is life like the sea? Does it scare us?
• Is it possible today to walk on the water of the sea of life? How?
5) Concluding Prayer
Shout for joy, you upright;
praise befits the honest.
Give thanks to Yahweh on the lyre,
play for Him on the ten-stringed lyre. (Ps 33:1-2)