“They said to him [Jesus], ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’”
— John 6:34
Our passage opens this week and we see the people chasing after Jesus. ‘Alright!’ we say, ‘someone finally gets it. Following Jesus is important.’ Then Jesus puts all our hopes for the goodness of humanity back in question by pointing out that the people just want to fill their stomachs. They aren’t seeking wisdom. They aren’t looking for signs of the kingdom of God. They aren’t interested in holiness or repentance. They are ruled by their base appetites.
Jesus never suggests that the people should not eat, on the contrary he goes to great efforts to feed them, but he is very concerned that their priorities are skewed. It reminds me of the ‘do not worry’ passage from Matthew 6. We are no different that the people following Jesus. It is very easy to get our priorities mixed up or to get distracted from the right course of action, to simply chase after bread that will only temporarily satisfy us.
Jesus calls us back to the Way just as he did the people outside of Capernum. He invites them to start working. No strangers to hard work in their lives, the people are ready. ‘What do we need to do?!’ Jesus answers with a powerful statment drawing the people to himself. It would have been fascinating and terrifying for the people to hear him call for them to believe in the one sent from God. Jesus doesn’t point to faith in God the Father, but he points to faith in himself as the way to do the work the Father desires. Jesus offers a clue to his true nature to the people. But the people are hungry, and they have not yet understood their spiritual hunger. So, even though they have just been fed by a miracle at the hands of Jesus, they demand that Jesus work another miracle like Moses bringing manna from Heaven to prove his authority.
Jesus invites them to recall the Exodus. The bread did not come from Moses, it came from God. And God does not want to provide simply for the physical hunger of the world, but to offer sustenance that will give life abundantly to all. The people still don’t get it. They start clamboring for bread again. Jesus lays it out for them once more, he is the gift of God providing life to the world. Bread and water to quench our deepest spiritual hunger and thirst. It may sound funny at first to those of us used to thinking of ‘bread & water’ as a punishment, but to Jesus’ audience these were the foundations of a normal diet and more importantly gifts from God to the people in the wilderness (recall the manna and Moses striking the stone with his staff to draw forth water). Jesus is not simply claiming to be a
prophet or leader who connects people to God’s gifts, he is God’s gift.
We are invited this week to re-examine our priorities, and find in God’s gift of Jesus the fulfilling that our souls long for.
Peace and Grace