Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Feasting on a mountain

I was reading today’s gospel text, John 6:1-14, when a couple of details of the text stood out to me as they never had before. John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand has two details that the other Gospel writers leave out in their accounts (Matt. 14, Mark 6, Luke 9). First, John mentions that “Jesus went up on the mountain”. Secondly, John notes that “the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.”

There are numerous parallels between this and other passages that John probably had in mind. Mountains are mentioned many times in Scripture, notably as places of worship. Among other things, John probably had in mind Moses’ receiving of the Law at Sinai, where Moses received specific instructions about the worship of Israel, and where the people sinfully ate in their worship of the golden calf (1 Cor. 10:7). Later in John 6, Jesus would show the people who followed him that they were idolaters just as those in Israel of old were (vss. 26 and following). Also interesting is John’s noting of the nearness of Passover. In Moses’ meeting of Yahweh at Sinai, Israel had just celebrated their first Passover feast, and so the connection with the golden calf incident is obviously intentional.

But the passage also brought to mind the setting of the Last Supper. John tells us of the celebration of the Passover by Jesus and his disciples (John 13:1. In fact, John notes the nearness of the Passover several times – John 11:55, 12:1 – suggesting that the feast of the Passover plays more than a passing significance in his thinking and writing). He does not show the connection between Passover and what we call Holy Communion (or Holy Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper – pick your own term) as the other Gospel writers do (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22), though the allusion to Holy Communion in John 6 has been noted by theologians through the centuries (vss. 53-56). Nor does John note that they celebrated the feast in an upper room (Mark 14:15, Luke 22:12). But this second aspect is worth noting in connection with John 6. While Jesus did not celebrate the Passover with them on a mountain, I think it may be reasonably suggested that in feasting in the upper room they were in fact symbolically feasting on a mountain, paralleling all the other passages dealing with mountains throughout Scripture. The fact that they also went out from there to the Mount of Olives would seem to relate as well.


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