At Saturday’s breakfast we considered the story of the feeding of the five thousand in John ch 6. We were all particularly struck by the comment in verse that the people wanted to come and make Jesus king by force. I’m not sure what that means or how that works. How do you insert someone as your king if that person doesn’t want it, or doesn’t want it that way.
And yet the church has insisted on doing this down through the ages, whether by the crusades, or forced conversions or at the point of a gun or, in more pietistic terms, by programmes and systems of evangelism and church growth. In NI in the next few weeks, some will try to make Jesus king by force in a series of big rallies in the Odyssey Arena. But Jesus will not have it this way….our way.
Instead, buried in same section of John’s Gospel is the hint of the Jesus way.
Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
John in his account of the feeding of the 5,000 records these actions of Jesus as a conscious, but hidden, hint for those of us who are this side of the events of Holy Week. These words should call to mind for us the words of Jesus at the Last Supper before he moves out to Gethsemane and the subsequent events of his crucifixion.
If there is to be a king, that kingdom will be in inaugurated by self-sacrifice, by the washing of feet, by those who want to be first choosing the last place. It cannot be by force.
So this deceptively simple story lays out the stark choice, the two ways, and we must choose. The Way of force and might? Or, the Way of service and sacrifice? This is the choice we continually make. The choice the church continually makes.
One final thing. The sadness is that, in a sense, making him king by force is exactly what they did in the end. Pilate writes an inscription in three languages, Jesus the King of the Jews, only not the king anyone imagined.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.