- First Reading 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
- Psalm Psalm 51:1-12
- Second Reading Ephesians 4:1-16
- Gospel John 6:24-35
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
What is it like to be thirsty? I mean, really thirsty? I mean, so parched your tongue is swollen, you can barely breathe and there is no moisture in you what-so-ever; even the inside of your mouth feels dry and tastes like sand. Can you imagine it? Have you ever experienced it? I’ve been dehydrated, but not that thirsty.
Or, can you imagine what it would be like to be truly hungry–not merely for a meal or two or even a day but for a whole week with no food? Then, imagine fasting 40 days…
Some church groups participate in what is called the 30-hour famine, which is a program through World Vision to raise money for hungry children across the globe. This experience seeks to replicate what much of the world experiences on a regular basis and to give participants an idea what it is like to be hungry.
I wonder, just how hungry were the members of the crowd of thousands whom Jesus fed? Were they just a little hungry? Looking for their one meal at the end of a 12-hour working day? Or were they even hungrier than that? In last week’s text, Jesus fed them with real physical food.
In this week’s text, it seems the crowds went in search of him across the water. Despite what the crowds are clamoring for, Jesus does not give in and feed them again with physical food. Then, as now, his feeding of the five thousand served as an illustration for the Kingdom of God, not the utopia of a free bottomless meal. The problem is, is the crowd searching for that today? Or, are we?
In all fairness, we could turn to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and say, “well, it’s a beginning – in last week’s text he satisfied their physical hunger.” And we would be right. But the purpose of free or reduced price lunches and/or breakfasts in school systems – at least in the urban ones where I was a teacher – was not to feed the children. The objective was to meet their basic hunger need so that they would be primed for the filling of their minds. It’s the gift of a fish theory. Give them a fish, they will be fed. Teach them to fish and they will move toward self-sufficiency – the caveat, of course, is if they are not first fed, their minds cannot learn to fish.
Back to the scripture. Yes, they were probably all hungry with real physical hunger pangs. As I thought about it, I had to remember many Israelites at this time were probably not so well off since they were a subjugated people. Roman Empire politics aside, in our passage today, Jesus is demanded to DO something; like cause a sign or behave like Moses. Come on, Jesus, we want a savior – or at least a feeder. The crowds quote a passage from Exodus 16, which is even recounted in Psalm 78.
I find it ironic, though, that time seems to have fuzzed up the institutional memory of the Israelites; they tell Jesus, “our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Wait a minute. It appears they have forgotten that it was God who provided the bread, not Moses. Jesus reminds them of this truth: “Very truly I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus cautions these would-be followers not to put their trust in “food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
Commentator Wayne Meeks identifies the crowd as seekers who are longing for a religion of convenience; that is, a faith that satisfies our wants. You may have been in that position a time or two. I know I have. “Lord, I want to find happiness in life.” “Lord, I want to make a difference in the world.” “Lord, I really want my children to grow up knowing and loving you, finding meaning in life through you, and becoming life-long committed Christian servants….but I might settle for just getting them to bed on time and having them actually sleep through the night tonight.”
Of course, there is a follow up question from the crowd when Jesus tells them they must work for food that endures. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” They still aren’t getting it, are they? At best they’ve only made the connection that “food that endures” has something to do with God. Jesus nails them down with his next response. It isn’t about performing something in order to receive your daily bread fulfillment. This is not a work-wage relationship. Jesus tells them flat out the work of God is to believe in the one God sent into the world.
Even after that edgy reminder, they still clamor for more: “Sir, give us this bread always.” Now comes the earth-shattering annunciation: Jesus speaks one of the greatest mysteries we have of the incarnation, one of the seven great “I am” statements in the Gospel of John where Jesus reveals who he really is. Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This is statement sets the stage for at least the next two Sunday’s worth of texts. What the gospel is doing, is leading readers deeper into how Jesus led hearers deeper into relationship with himself-and God.
Oh, is that it? No problem, right? We already believe, we’re here in church on Sunday. But Meeks takes this as an ultimatum: a demand for unconditional commitment from Jesus. We’re not talking about an hour or so on Sunday mornings. We are talking about every moment of every day for your entire life. For many today, it is too much to ask. In practical terms for the crowd in John, it meant alienation from the majority community and total allegiance to a sect of Judaism that was despised and persecuted.
So, bottom line, as Commentator William Willimon put it, is this: the people are looking for Jesus, but a Jesus that is their idea of a Savior; and Jesus won’t have it. Now I get to ask the really hard question. Are you in a similar boat? Am I? Do we have a laundry-list relationship with God? Is our Jesus the God WE envision for ourselves? If that is the case, then we have probably set our sights on the wrong King and Kingdom! It is not about us. It is not about putting God in a box that we get to define, nor is it about a laundry list of “I wants.” It is about authentic relationship with Jesus, the One whose fingers fashioned the stars and yet knows us intimately enough to know that we need to be led into right relationship with him.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
In John 6:26–27, Jesus says that people were looking for him not because they saw signs but because they had eaten their fill of the bread he had multiplied. What do you think he meant? What is “the food that endures for eternal life”?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy One, as I move through this new day,
I pray that you will keep me in union
with the faith and knowledge of Jesus.
I long to mature into the stature of Christ.
Help me to speak the truth in love today,
that I may grow into him,
my savior, my teacher, and my friend, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Thank you, God, for being my traveling companion today.
Instead of counting sheep as I fall asleep tonight,
help me to count all the forms that your manna took
as you fed me with the bread of life today.
Good night, God. I love you. Amen.
 Meeks, Wayne. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
 Provided by Feasting on the Word, Liturgies for Year B, Vol. 2.: Proper 13, Complimentary