Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Last Sunday, we heard, in the beginning of John 6, that Jesus took fives loaves of bread and two fish and gave them to 5000 hungry people. All were fed and satisfied, and there were 12 baskets of leftovers.
The crowd must have thought they were set. They’d found their golden goose. Sticking with Jesus, they’d never had to worry about finding the money to buy bread again. They wouldn’t have to wonder how to stretch their meal to make sure the children had enough to eat. Finally, God had sent someone to take care of them.
But just as they went to make their allegiance to Jesus as their new king, their new caretaker, he disappeared.
They knew his disciples had left in a boat, so they hopped in their own, and rowed back and forth across the sea, searching for Jesus. You can imagine how frantic they were- they found the solution to their problem, and then just as quickly, lost it.
Eventually, they find Jesus. But Jesus tells them they’ve been searching for the wrong thing. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Jesus sounds harshly disappointed, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
Doesn’t Jesus get it? Of course they’ve come because they were fed! These hungry peasants have spent the majority of their lives worried about food and feeding their families- their need for nourishment consumes their days.
Where’s Jesus’ compassion? Why isn’t he giving them what they’re looking for?
I think Jesus is setting a bad example for all of us Christians who follow. Jesus says he’s got something better than the bread they say they need. So he withholds the bread he first gave. I’ve seen this played out in Christian missions, and it makes me sick.
Thankfully, in the ELCA, we’ve tried to move away from a paradigm of mission, especially foreign mission, in which the white missionaries go somewhere more exotic, peddling their medicine and food, for the price of adopting European culture along with Christianity. We didn’t always listen first to what people said they needed, or how they worshipped. This mission ends with organs rotting in Africa rather than embracing the music to which the peoples’ heart beat.
But still today, too often us Christians make other people jump through our hoops to prove themselves worthy of the “gifts” we’d give. We who say Jesus welcomed all, and that all are sinners, sometimes force people to live up to our standards before we dole out our charity. We celebrate grace, God’s freely given, underserved love for us, but don’t live that out in our abundant sharing with those in need.
While I was serving my internship, I toured a ministry that served the homeless, providing a hot dinner and a safe place to sleep. I started to feel quesy when the hosts proudly spoke of how every client had to sit through worship before they were allowed in to eat. It was as if the gospel was the price these people had to pay before they could receive what they really needed.
Relationship with Jesus shouldn’t be the forced cost to those who would receive the bread they need; relationship with Jesus is what should inspire freely giving to those in need. Bellies need to be filled before hearts and heads can be open to hearing the gospel.
So, I’ve got a problem with Jesus being angry with the people’s focus on bread. He knows they’re hungry. He’s got what they need. And he’s telling them he’s got something better, even if it won’t fill their bellies tonight.
One of the unsettling things about all the stories of Jesus’ signs and miracles is the ever-present, desperately needy crowd. Crowds come to Jesus and many are healed, many are fed. But what about the ones who made it there a day too late? Or the kid who breaks his leg the day after Jesus leaves? Or that time the disciples go find Jesus praying, telling him there is a needy crowd waiting to be healed, and Jesus says they have to move along?
As we prepared for our prayers last Sunday, we spoke the struggles of our world. People we love are sick, we are afraid of the violence in our world, and the future is uncertain.
Why doesn’t Jesus fix everything?
That doesn’t seem to be the work he is about.
Jesus’ work isn’t about fixing everything wrong in our lives the instant we ask. Not by waving his arms and making all the hurt disappear. Not by receiving our wishlist and checking if we’ve been naughty or nice. Not even in response to our strong faith, or good enough prayer. Jesus isn’t our good luck charm, or our quick fix.
Jesus won’t be the crowd’s sandwich of the day: the meal that sustains them for a few hours. Jesus is the bread of life. He goes to the root of their need, their hunger. People who come to him with bellies empty and bodies broken rejoice when Jesus feeds them and heals them. They think they know what they needed, and they think they know what they got. But their hunger and their sickness are symptoms of a greater need. They need life. They need a constant inflow of the breath of life that was breathed in to them at creation. Their encounter with Jesus was the beginning of the relationship with the giver of life, and it is that connection that they- and we- need.
Jesus gives life to the world, not be waving his arms, but by stretching them out. On the cross, Jesus enters our suffering. Through his death and resurrection, he opens the way to a new life. He prepares the portal into the new creation, where hunger, sickness, and death are no more.
Jesus’ work is for the sake of healing us, and healing all of creation. Jesus gives us this healing through his own brokenness. We enter this healing through relationship with him.
Today, we gather around the communion table. This is the meal in which we eat the Bread of Life. We come away hungry from this feast. Where the crowd was fill, and so abundantly fed that there were leftovers, we leave the table longing for more.
We are meant to be hungry, and not satisfied. If you had everything you wanted, there would be no more seeking, no more hoping for a new future. This small experience of wanting even as we are fed opens us to longing for a time when all will be fed. Even us Christians don’t yet possess the Bread of Life completely, so we can’t hide away from the world, smug that we’ve been taken care of. We are made aware of all the others who also long for fullness, who wait to be satisfied by the giver of life, whose brokenness and sickness point to their need for relationship with the Bread of Life.
When we are in relationship with the Bread of Life, we experience the abundance of life he gives, so that we can be those overflowing baskets of leftovers for the world. Jesus doesn’t give us just enough strength for the day, just enough love for the moment, he fills us to overflowing so that we can freely give to the world, especially to those in need. Filled, and yet hungering, we become enactors of Jesus’ compassion.
We experience both the longing that belongs to all creation- the longing for a renewal of life and wholeness- and the first tastes of God’s answer- the transforming nourishment of Jesus. We have one foot in the current sufferings and another in the new creation, so that we can help others move into an experience of God’s life-giving love. Our faith, our relationship with Jesus, gives us the confidence to freely feed and work for the healing of those in need around us. Instead of Jesus the quick fix, God offers us as workers in the kingdom, who walk with those wondering how to feed their families, those struggling to find a place to live. We embody Jesus’ compassionate action and become ourselves a sign to the one who gives life that lasts.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment