August 6, 2012 by jmar198013
My text today is John 6.24-35. Those with ears to hear, listen for the word of God.
Then, when the crowds realized that Jesus was not there anymore, and neither were his disciples, they climbed into boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Teacher, how long have you been here?” Jesus responded by saying, “Let’s be honest. You’re not looking for me because of the signs you experienced. No, what you really want is a belly full of bread. Don’t work for food that will spoil, but for food that will keep throughout the ages. The Son of Man will give you that food, because Father God has sealed him.” They replied, “But how can we go about doing the works of God?” Jesus answered: “Why not trust the one God sent? That’s the work of God.” The crowds replied, “Right. Then give us a sign. Seeing is believing, after all. What can you pull off? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, just like it says, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus told them, “Truth is, it wasn’t Moses that gave you that heavenly bread. That steadfast, reliable heavenly bread was provided to you by my Father. Anything that comes down from heaven and nurtures life in this world is bread from God.” And they said, “Then Lord, give us this bread from now on!” Jesus answered them, “The bread of life is me. Whoever comes to me will not go hungry, and whoever trusts in me will never be thirsty.”
The word of God for the people of God.
The conversation we’ve just heard between Jesus and the crowds took place the day after he had fed five thousand men. Plus their wives. And their children. On sardines and crackers he’d gotten from a little boy’s lunch pail. This got the crowds so fired up, they organized a “Take back Judea!” campaign to install Jesus as king. But Jesus wasn’t interested in a power grab. Power was in his hands already.
Jesus exercised his power by walking away. Actually, by walking away on the surface of a lake during a powerful storm. But that’s another story.
So the crowds go looking for Jesus. They can’t accept that this fellow who can feed everyone with a wave of his hands won’t be their king. It’s understandable. Imagine if you knew someone who could do what Jesus did. Imagine that this person had the sort of social momentum Jesus had acquired. And then imagine that they just walked away from it. You might say to them, “You’re so irresponsible! You’re wasting the gifts God gave you. You could fix the world, you know. Why are you hiding your light under a bushel? Why, it’s downright sinful!” Well, that was what the crowds were doing to Jesus. When they asked him, “Teacher, how long have you been here?” it wasn’t a question about time. They were judging him. “How long have you been here?” was a loaded question, pregnant with indignation. If you could subject that question to an autopsy, you’d cut it open and find it ridden with a cancer called, “Explain yourself!”
They couldn’t believe he was wasting his God-given talents.
Also, they were hungry.
Jesus calls their bluff. “Be honest. You don’t want me, you want what I can do for you.” If you’ve ever worked with a ministry, or a nonprofit, or a government agency geared toward the needy, you know how Jesus felt. We call these populations “needy” for a reason.
They sure are.
It’s tempting at this juncture to point fingers and say, “See, those Judean welfare chiselers are the same as the ones we got now. Always looking for a handout. Always wanting something for nothing.” But that’s not what Jesus says. He knows being poor is hard work. His words to them are, “Don’t work for the food with the sell-by date on it.”
But now is not the time to talk about the poor of Judea or the poor of America. Let’s talk about us. If we are very honest, we may find that our own lives with Jesus are marked by decidedly, “What’s in it for me?” tendencies. We want a next-door savior; we want to make our lives work; we want our best life now. I didn’t make that up, either; those were book titles I saw at Lifeway. And when our lives don’t work and we don’t get our best life now, we might say to Jesus, “Explain yourself!” Well, we know from John what happened when Jesus was confronted by that mentality: he walked across a lake to get away from those people. And the next time he saw them, he said, “Don’t work for the bread with the sell-by date on it.” Maybe you can’t get your best life now because the life you want won’t work. What was it the Rolling Stones said? “You can’t always get what you want. But if you’ll try, sometimes you’ll find you get what you need.” That’s the point Jesus is making: “Don’t work for food that will spoil, but for food that will keep throughout the ages. The Son of Man will give you that food, because Father God has sealed him.” If I may be blunt, Jesus is saying, “I can feed you all the time out of nothing, that’s true. But the fact is, you’d still be rotten people if I did, maybe even worse. ”
We don’t need to make our lives work. We need to be put to work in God’s life, the life Jesus shares with us.
But the crowds are persistent. They cannot see what Jesus has to share with them because they are looking for solutions to the problems of their own security. “Give us a sign,” they insist. “Like Moses, who gave our ancestors bread in the wilderness.” If I may quote another line from a pop song: “Give me a sign. Hit me, baby, one more time.” Jesus will have none of this: “Moses didn’t give you squat,” he tells them. “God gave it to him to give to you. Let me give you what God has entrusted to me. I have food that will sustain you through the ages.”
I forgive them for not understanding; frankly, I often fail to understand, myself. The Jesus John remembers doesn’t always explain himself very well. I suppose he was playing hard to get.
I would suggest, however, that the key to deciphering the exchange between Jesus and the crowds is when he tells them: “Anything that comes down from heaven and nurtures life in this world is bread from God.” The crowds reply: “Lord, give us this bread from now on!” Jesus answers: “The bread of life is me. Whoever comes to me will not go hungry, and whoever trusts in me will never be thirsty.” The crowds want Jesus to feed them forever. Jesus replies it is not entirely up to him. If the crowds want truly want to eat forever, they must also bring something to the table. The “something” they must bring is trust. They must entrust their lives and their work to the one who fed five-thousand-plus people out of a little boy’s lunch pail. Trust him to perfect the work they undertake. Trust him to make good the defects in their lives and in their work.
This passage reminds us that our relationship with Jesus cannot be dictated by our demand, “What’s in it for me?” “What’s in it for me?” will always and forever leave us hoarding what we have and asking for more. Jesus invites us, instead, to share whatever gifts we’re holding so that many others can participate in God’s abundance. That is the bread that will sustain life through the ages.
This is why Jesus can say, “Anything that comes down from heaven and nurtures life in this world is bread from God.” That is also why he can say, “The bread of life is me. I am the bread of life.” He shared the body and blood which God entrusted to him so that all might share in God’s abundance. The one who challenges us to bring something to the table is the one whose life, death, and resurrection gives us our place at the table.
This morning as we gather to share the bread and drink Jesus gave us to sustain our life together, may it not be as those who merely beg, “Give us this bread from now on, Lord!” May it not be as those to whom Jesus says: “Be honest. You’re not here for me, but for what I can do for you.” Rather, may we be like that little boy who gave Jesus his lunch to feed thousands. May we be willing to bring something to the table. Because we’ll only get our hands on the bread of life when we are open to sharing, and not just receiving, God’s abundance.
Bread: Father, as we break this bread that sustains us, open our hearts to breaking open the gifts you have given us so that all may have a share in your generosity. May the Cross of your Son remind us what is at stake. And may his resurrection remind us of your abundance, the consequences of what may be achieved when we entrust even our very selves to you. Amen.
Cup: Father, this bread and this cup remind us what Jesus has brought to the table. As we drink the cup he has provided for us, may we pause to reflect on what we can bring to the table to sustain others. Amen.