17th Sun in Ordinary Time • 2 Kings 4:42-44 • Ephesians 3:14-21 • John 6:1-21 • July 25, 2021
Once upon a time there was a mighty prophet who led his people to safety right through the sea, even though it was impossible. Later he went up a mountain and brought back a just and honorable way of life. Many generations later, people told with wonder how another prophet made a little food go a long way—although mothers and cooks have been doing that since the beginning, so maybe the miracle was how well it was done by a man without a domestic bone in his body. Centuries passed. The people went through good times and bad. They had judges, kings, great victories, great losses, and many more prophets. They were driven off their land. They returned. Their land gained and lost territory. Eventually it was occupied by the Romans.
During this time, a traveling preacher from an obscure town made a little food go an even longer way. People wondered and argued about him. His message was like that of earlier prophets. Take care of one another. Don’t judge or take advantage. God’s love is blind to what you call rank and power. Or rather, your love is blinded by those illusions. Real power does not force or abuse. Real power is love. It feeds and heals people. Like this, and like this, and like this. Realign your perceptions and your ways. Now is the time. God is here now.
The preacher fed thousands of people who had followed him up a mountain in search of his healing power. Being taught from a mountain was familiar to his followers. A mountain was where their ancestors had been taught by the prophet who’d impossibly taken them through the sea.
But this preacher’s followers were still mixed up about what power was. They wanted him to take the power of a monarch. Surely life would be better with him in control than with that Roman monarch.
The preacher saw farther than they did. To take that power would undermine his whole lesson. The people might have peace and full stomachs, but they would be no wiser than before. They would keep right on taking advantage of the illusion they called power. They might even ask him to expand their realm by making war on their neighbors.
They would never learn that each one of them had a realm inside, and that this inner realm did not thrive on control. It thrived—of all things—on the yielding of control in love and trust.
A good teacher knows when any further words will fall on deaf ears… when the food for thought must be digested before more can be absorbed. Force would do no good; this was a time for letting go. Away up the mountain he went.
His closest followers had accompanied him across the sea to this mountain. They waited for him till nightfall. When he didn’t come, they returned to their boat and started back on their own. But a powerful wind raised powerful waves. It almost seemed that the harder they leaned into the oars, the less progress they made.
Water does not resist but yields. That very quality gives it the power to sculpt canyons. When the yielding power of water meets the rigid power of stone, the stone may shape the details of the water’s path, but the water finds a way around each obstacle and ultimately wins through to its destination.
The traveling preacher also does not resist but yields. When his foot meets the water, the power of yielding recognizes itself. The water does not resist him. Without effort he finds himself alongside his struggling friends.
The impossibility of what he is doing is not all that scares them. To people used to trusting in force and control, trust in the power of yielding is itself terrifying.
His words, “it is I,” echo a long-ago “I AM” heard on a stable, solid mountain. But the words spoken now are elusive as the waves under the boat, which keep moving, tossing, breaking, and sliding away. Who is this “I,” what is this power that we can’t take hold of or command, that is ever slipping away from us even as it holds our very lives in its thrall? To yield to it seems the most dangerous possible response. Yet what gets them all to shore is not their own efforts. The One who met them dances his yielding with the water’s, and they arrive.
What really happened? I don’t know, but Something did. And it kept on happening, right into Paul’s life. For Paul somehow found the inner realm that this preacher had spoken of, and Paul somehow learned that the power it thrives on is not force but faith. “I pray that… you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
To those of us accustomed to the power of force, mechanical change makes sense, but transformation seems impossible. Thanks be to God, force is not the only power there is. Love works like water, not resisting but gently, persistently making a way where none existed before. “Now to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory… forever.”