How do we know that the Jesus’ movement started by the apostles and disciples of Jesus is of divine origin? How do we know that Jesus is truly from God and not someone who was out to deceive us into believing that He is from God?
So important is the need to verify this claim that Jesus is not only from God but God Himself, that the readings during the Easter season seek to demonstrate that Jesus is truly risen and therefore He is Lord. Unless He is Lord, we cannot speak of the divinity of Jesus and declare to the whole world that only faith in Jesus’ name and no other can one be saved. So what are the signs that can lead us to faith?
Firstly, we are dependent on the testimony of the disciples and apostles. But why must we believe that their testimonies are true unless they are backed up by deeds? What then are the signs that give credibility to their testimonies?
The first sign is that they worked miraclesin the name of Jesus. It was not that they performed miracles, but they performed miracles in the name of Jesus. The implication is that the miracles they worked were a continuation of the ministry of Jesus when He was on earth. Since such miracles were done in His name, it means that Jesus must be alive.
Secondly, they were ready to suffer for the name of Jesus. Even when they were flogged and warned, “not to speak in the name of Jesus”, they continued to testify to the Lord. They were too happy and “glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name.” In other words, the apostles were ready to be identified with Jesus in His sufferings only because they were convinced that death could not overcome them.
Thirdly, we are told that the disciples were ever ready to testify to Jesus. St Luke says that “they preached every day both in the Temple and in private houses, and their proclamation of the Good News of Christ Jesus was never interrupted.” In spite of being warned and threatened, they were not deterred from proclaiming the gospel. Instead, they were even more zealous than ever. Thus, we must conclude that their testimonies are credible; if not, they would not have exhibited such zeal, passion, conviction and love for the Lord. So either they were mad, or madly in love with the Risen Lord!
However, the apostles certainly were themselves not so gullible as to believe in Jesus without reason either. They too must have put Jesus on trial before they committed themselves to Him. What then are the signs that would establish the fact that Jesus truly is from God? The gospel of John gives us the signs of Jesus’ divine origin. In today’s gospel, Jesus is presented as the New Moses, the one who brought the New Covenant to fulfillment. He is the New Moses predicted by Moses himself in Deuteronomy when he said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren – him shall you heed (Dt 18:15).” How then can we justify that He is certainly the one?
Firstly, the evangelist noted that the following events happened “shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.” The Jewish Passover of course reminds us of the Exodus experience of the Israelites. In celebrating the Passover, they celebrated the memorial of their redemption. It is from this perspective that the gospel text must be interpreted.
Hence, when we are told, “Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias,” what was John implying? It is a reenactment of Moses who led the people across the Red Sea from Egypt to the Promised Land. Then we are told that “a large crowd followed Him, impressed by the signs He gave by curing the sick.” Again, this statement reminds us of how the Hebrews were impressed by the Ten Plagues and the signs that Moses performed before Pharaoh was forced to release them.
Next, the evangelist recorded “Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with His disciples.” We must remember that Moses was considered the great prophet of God because he was always going to the Mountain to receive the Word of God. Jesus, by ascending the hillside, was implicitly claiming that He is the prophet of God. However, He not only spoke the Word of God but He is God’s word Himself. His word is authoritative and effective, as demonstrated by the miracles He performed and the works of healing and compassion. Jesus is therefore recognized as the Teacher.
In order that we not hesitate in believing that His claims are true, Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves to feed five thousand people. By so doing, He was repeating what Moses did. Just as Moses prayed to God for manna, so too, Jesus multiplied bread for the hungry people who followed Him to the desert. Bread, as we know in the Torah, is the symbol for the Word of God. So, the implication of feeding the Jews with the bread means that Jesus was now the Eschatological prophet who came to nurture them with the Word of God. However, Jesus was not contented simply to speak the Word of God. In a couple of day’s time, we will read that Jesus went further to make the claim that He is the Word of God made flesh.
Finally, we take note that at the end of the meal, “twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves were collected.” This is simply an attempt to speak of the bounty of God’s love for us. In the Promised Land, we will have everything in plenty and no one will be in want. Thus, the meal that Jesus provided was a messianic meal, the banquet that we are all called to partake. Indeed, by receiving Jesus, the Word of God and the Bread of Life made flesh, we will find fullness of life.
Consequently, at the end of the miracle, the evangelist concurs with “the people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is come into the world.’” Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.” So in the understanding of the evangelist, there is no doubt that Jesus is the New Moses, the New Covenant, and the Shepherd that will lead us to the Promised Land.
Now that we have put the apostles and Jesus Himself, the Founder on trial, we must realize that before the world, we are now on trial. The world wants to know whether we truly believe in Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. What signs can we show that our faith in Jesus is real and that He is truly alive in us? What signs must we produce?
Firstly, we must manifest the same zeal to proclaim Jesus to the world, to make Him known and loved; and that we will use every means at our disposal so that Jesus will be recognized as the Saviour of the world. Unless we show ourselves to be people who are ready to take risks for Jesus, make sacrifices for the mission, humble ourselves to accept humiliation, failure and ridicule; it would be hard to convince others that we have faith in Jesus as Lord.
Secondly, people will know that Jesus is alive and is the Lord of our lives when they see us as instruments by which the Lord continues to work miracles in our days. Unless we believe in the power of the Risen Lord who has given us the gifts of the Spirit to continue His ministry of love, compassion and liberation, we cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord and is alive. Indeed, are we like Philip who was almost in despair? The problem with the apostles is that they did not believe that little is always too much in the hands of Christ. We are called to be like Andrew who brought the problem to Jesus to solve. In other words, we must trust in the divine providence and the power of the Risen Lord to work even in hopeless situations.
Finally, the third sign, which will manifest the Risen Lord in our lives, is when we have the magnanimous spirit of the little boywho had not much to offer but gave all. And with what he had, Jesus found the materials for a miracle. Yes, Jesus could do great things only with people who have a heart to love and who hold nothing back when it comes to love and compassion. When we are generous with ourselves and give ourselves totally to the Lord, He will reward us abundantly beyond our imagination.
Yes, today, we are invited to proclaim Jesus with power. If we want the Lord to work in our lives and feel His Risen Presence, then today we are invited to come into contact with Him, especially through the Eucharist, which entails both a reception of Jesus as the Word of God and the Bread life. Unless, we are devoted to the Word of Jesus and to the Eucharist, we will not be able to find strength, power and commitment in our mission of offering Jesus as the Gift of God to all so that they might find life in Him. Yes, we come to Jesus, not like the Jews who wanted to make use of Him for selfish interests. We must come to Him only because we want to make Him loved and known by the whole world as Saviour and Lord.