When the crowd realized that Jesus was gone, they boarded their small boats and crossed the sea to Capernaum, looking for Him. When they found Jesus across the sea, they questioned Him.
“Teacher, when did You arrive at Capernaum?”
” I tell you the truth—you are tracking Me down because I fed you – not because you saw signs from God. Don’t spend your life chasing food that spoils and rots. Instead, seek the food that lasts into all the ages, and comes from the Son of Man, the One on whom God the Father has placed His seal.”
“What do we have to do to accomplish the Father’s works?”
“If you want to do God’s work, then believe in the One He sent.
“Can You show us a miraculous sign? Something spectacular? If we see something like that, it will help us to believe. Our fathers ate manna when they wandered in the desert. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
“I tell you the truth: Moses did not give you bread from heaven; it is My Father who offers you true bread from heaven. The bread of God comes down out of heaven and breathes life into the cosmos.”
“Master, we want a boundless supply of this bread!”
“I am the bread that gives life. If you come to My table and eat, you will never go hungry. Believe in Me, and you will never go thirsty.”
When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time in church. It was never a question of whether or not we would attend church on Sunday; we just went. ALL of us, unless you were sick. We were pretty healthy most of the time. So I have slept and drawn and colored my way through a LOT of sermons!
I absorbed a lot of things indirectly along the way, too, one of which involved the idea that giving and helping and doing things to help others rather than just yourself was good. Alas, my absorption was not “fair and balanced” — I never quite got that part about taking care of yourself first, THEN helping others. I still have boundary issues with that some of the time, but the point I’m trying to make here is that I got a heavy dose of the hustle and bustle of United Methodist “DOING.” So there came a point in my life when I toppled out of a program staff church job at another United Methodist Church. I fell and fell hard. I felt rejected, bruised and broken, and I needed some time to allow my soul and spirit to heal. I ended up in the Episcopal Church and stayed for seven years. For me, it was the perfect haven. The emphasis was on BEING, not so much on DOING. And I could think, feel, experience, examine, ask questions, grow, and just BE. Even though I’m back on the UM side of things now, I still treasure the time I spent as an Episcopalian, and there are places in my heart where that’s still where I am most at home.
I tell you all this because of how Jesus responded to the questions being thrown at him in today’s scripture.
The story picks up on the heels of where it left off last week, which involved feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, needing a break, taking it, and walking on water to get back with the rest of the group who had already sailed out pretty far away from the shore where they’d been with Jesus.
It begins with Jesus on the OTHER shore of the lake. It is interesting to look at this text from the pattern of question and answer — what the crowd wants to know and what answers Jesus provides. [Note: Peter Woods, another clergy-type blogger in South Africa, has a piece called “Jesus the Janitor?” that parallels how I was thinking of Jesus as a Mr. Fix-It; some of this is borrowed from him.]
Verses 25-27: The crowd who had been following him demanded answers: What are you doing over HERE? How long have you been here? WHEN did you get here? As though Jesus was required to give an accounting of his whereabouts and actions! His response is something about working for food that endures for life. But what he means cuts to the quick of the crowd’s motivations: “You don’t want me, you want what I can do for you. You don’t see the signs and believe because of them; you just like getting free food.”
Verses 28-29: The crowd wants to know what they can do to work God’s work. Again, Jesus’ response is a bit indirect, talking about believing rather than working. Believing seems too….passive. You can believe something while you’re “multi-tasking” three other things. The crowd wants an assignment. They want something concrete and specific, not vague and metaphoric.
Verses 30-33: The crowd asks for a sign from Jesus so they can believe, some “spectacular”kind of sign!” Jesus comes back with a proclamation about “My Father” and bread that gives life. Like that’s useable information!
Verses 34-35: The crowd demands (rather than asks for) the bread. Jesus claims to be the bread, the bread of life. How do you BE bread, anyway?
The questions and answers don’t quite match up. At best they provide a kind of unsatisfying incongruence. The crowd wants to know this, and Jesus answers with that. They want THIS kind of information, but he responds with a different kind of information. He’s the guy they were wanting to make king last week. They are trying to sort out who Jesus is in light of what they just experienced. Their questions don’t seem to be leading them in that direction so Jesus provides different answers than the questions deman
The crowd wasn’t made up of bad people. They were probably a lot like us. Materialistic, utilitarian, pragmatic. They wouldn’t have thought of themselves in those terms because those terms weren’t invented yet. But they describe us pretty well. We all just want our lives to work. We want to make progress, move forward, move up, move something somewhere somehow. Nothing wrong with that.
If something doesn’t work, we might throw it out. Your blender quit? Throw it out. Is smoking getting in the way of your life? Kick the habit. But there are some things we might choose to hang onto instead of throw out, even if they’re broken. Your grandfather’s pocketwatch. Maybe you’ll get it fixed. Or maybe you’ll just hang onto it anyway. Or, to be more metaphorical, maybe it’s your bad temper, or fear of failure, or an old, deep emotional wound that’s getting in your way. You might get help and “fix it”, or you might just keep on living with it because it’s easier. And familiar. Depending on what it is and how metaphorical we’re getting, if we can’t fix it, we might ask God to fix it, because God can fix anything, right? If God can’t fix it, it must be because God won’t, because God COULD if God WOULD. God could give a sign or something to help out a little, right? And why wouldn’t God fix something that’s going to help make our lives, our religion, our spirituality better? If God won’t fix things, maybe we don’t even need this non-fix-it God. I mean, look at all the atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion, all the lives lost, the wars waged, the hurt embedded. From the Middle East to the Spanish Inquisition to Chick-Fil-A. It’s a crazy way to live with each other.
The life we know and want isn’t necessarily the one God has in mind for us. I’m not saying what God wants for us is always different from what we know and want for ourselves – I wouldn’t and couldn’t presume to know what God has in mind for all of you, or even me. We live so much in the day-to-day blur of quick fix conveniences, skimming faster and faster over the surface of life as we know it. It’s our context, our domain. We depend on it. For many of us our daily routines and expectations have become an addiction.
But the Kingdom of God is about transformation. It’s about transcendence. It’s all the force in the universe – and at the same time, it’s the power of water eroding stone, one gentle drop at a time. It’s life on the fringes, out of focus and between the lines as well as life in the peaks and hearts of things. It’s about finding a quiet center in the midst of whirling chaos.
And we don’t really know how to do that or where to begin.
But if we can accept the invitation Jesus is extending in this scripture – simply to BELIEVE, that’s a place to begin. And if we can accept that invitation, we find we’re all invited to a feast, prepared here for all of us.
There’s a lot of stuff in the world that needs fixing. But there’s a lot of brokenness in us that need’s fixing too. And we have to fix ourselves before we can be very good at changing the world. We don’t need glue. We need bread. Living bread. The bread of life. May it be for us the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may begin or continue our own transformation and be for the world the body of Christ.
Thanks be to God.