Gospel: John 6:24-35
24When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were [beside the sea,] they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32Then Jesus said to them, “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. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let me start by giving a little context to today’s reading. The disciples Jesus had sent out had returned and shared their stories. Jesus encouraged them to withdraw for some much needed and deserved rest, but when they withdrew, the crowds went where they were. Because Jesus had compassion for them, he taught them and he healed them. Then he fed them, all 5000 of them. When that led to some of them wanting to make Jesus their king, he withdrew. The disciples got into a boat to go over to the other side of the sea. Jesus eventually walked across the water, calming the winds when the disciples recognized him after fearing he was a ghost. They arrived suddenly on the shore, and the crowds soon cross the sea as well, finding Jesus on the other side, knowing of no boat that could have taken him there.
They ask when he came, but what they’re probably really wondering is how.
It seems to me as I read today’s Gospel reading that Jesus was a bit frustrated with the people who had followed him across the sea. Why else would he respond the way he does? What the gospel tells us is this, “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Then they ask what they have to do. Jesus answers that they are to believe in him whom God has sent. Then they ask for a sign. Have they forgotten already the sign of the success of the disciples on their journeys? Have they forgotten Jesus’ healings and his teaching? Have they forgotten how he fed 5000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish, with even more than that left over?
What kind of sign do they think they need?
Instead, they refer to the manna their ancestors received in the wilderness. The manna came from nothing, not even the five loaves and two fish. Are they criticizing Jesus for being less amazing? Jesus redirects, speaking of the bread that comes down from God the Father to give life to the world. They ask for that bread, and Jesus claims that identity.
“I am the bread of life,” he says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Is this clear?
I believe most of the time we answer in ways that are the least embarrassing, rather than the most true. We claim our understanding to be crystal clear, when it’s actually quite murky. What is Jesus saying here? I don’t believe he meant that people who believe would magically receive manna from heaven to feed them when they had no food. I believe the whole thing is actually a bit more complex than that—maybe a lot more complex!
What does it mean to come to Jesus, after all? What does it mean to believe in him?
For many people, that belief is understood to be a series of works. There was even an intense discussion and resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012 over the tendency of some to make Christianity simply about non-believers asking Jesus into their hearts… as if all you gotta do is ask Jesus into your heart.
My response to that is something I don’t usually broadcast, in an attempt to be respectful of the experience of others, but I firmly believe that if a person is at the point of asking Jesus to come on inside, Jesus is actually already there!
Of course there are people who firmly believe that what matters most is that you ask Jesus into your heart.
There are others who believe that what matters most is that you treat other people with respect.
There are others who believe that what matters most is that you provide for the health of your neighbors. Whether this is by providing good food and water, shelter from the elements, or even medical care varies.
Some believe that what matters most is that you mind your own business!
What does Jesus say?
At first, some might think that what he says is just a little self-centered. “Believe in me!” “I am the bread of life.”
Too often, I believe, we get bogged down in, “What’s in it for me?” The people who had been miraculously healed and fed wanted that healing and feeding to continue indefinitely. That’s why they tried to force Jesus to be an earthly king for them. Jesus, though, wasn’t having it. He realized they weren’t there because they realized who he was, and what God wanted for the world. They were there for free bread, and quick healing. Even their question, “What works must we do?” fell short, maybe in the phrasing, I don’t know. I can imagine Jesus figuratively pulling his hair out, “Just believe! Get it! Understand!!!”
Life isn’t supposed to be a game where everyone competes to see who gets the most stuff, or who visits the most places, or who plasters the bumper with the most stickers. We’re not supposed to be out to see who makes the most money, or even who gives the most money away. You don’t see Jesus throwing coins out into the crowds telling them to go buy something or to go find a doctor.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never by hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That’s what Jesus says. What does it mean? What does it really mean to come to Jesus?
I believe it means that our eyes see what is important in the eyes of Jesus. Our hearts feel what is important in the heart of Jesus. Our ears hear what is important in the ears of Jesus.
We stop turning away from the needs around us and we start sharing our lives like Jesus shared his. We recognize everyone as someone who matters, regardless of their skin color, their body decorations, their gender, their wealth, their physical abilities, their appearance, or their challenges. We start seeing something good in the strangers who have yet to become our friends, our sisters and our brothers in God’s creation.
Our special music today invited all to join in singing praise to God. I pray that we will join not only in singing those praises, but in living God’s love, here on earth, here in Superior, here on the shores of the great lake and in the woods of what some might still term to be “Wild Wisconsin!” This is what matters: living God’s love for the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen