by Sue Collins
(Based on John 6:24-35, 2 Sam 11:26 – 12:13, Ephesians 4:1-16)
Here we have a crowd of people living a simple and hard life in a tiered and harsh society; a crowd who is following this man Jesus – this carpenter from Nazareth. They are so excited because they have seen him make sick people well. They say he walked on water and he calmed a storm. What will he do next? He is worth following!
Let’s look at what has happened in this sequence of events leading up to this reading from the gospel. Jesus had miraculously fed the crowd who had followed him, more than five thousand hungry people on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee, at Bethsaida. They wanted to see more; it was exciting and if he was going to fill their bellies and do great and exciting things for them then why not make the most of this opportunity. There was even talk of making Jesus an earthly king! – the sort of king he would never agree to being.
Meanwhile Jesus had disappeared up into the mountains. Even his disciples couldn’t find him. After waiting by the shore until darkness for Jesus to come back, the disciples eventually got into their boat without him to go across the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum. Then a terrible storm blew up and they were fearful for their lives. Jesus came to them walking over the water and calmed the storm, and they were immediately there at Capernaum.
The next morning the crowd set out to find Jesus, who had disappeared, and went across to Capernaum to look for him. When they found him they said in wonder, “How did he get here?”
All through this time, the crowd’s preoccupation with the benefits of immediate, short lived solutions has diverted them from seeing what really matters. We can understand this. It mirrors what happens here in our world today:
– so much endless pursuit for the reward that immediate satisfaction gives,
– but a reward which has no ultimate lasting significance.
At the same time it completely overlooks the life being offered by the ‘Son of Man’.
When the crowd picks up on this, they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”
They have understood enough to ask for more information.
So, how to get beyond the temporal solutions to open the way to the eternal offer? The answer comes, “that they must believe in the one God has sent”. They must have faith in what he says and in what he shows himself to be. That is the work God wants of them – Belief.
Jesus says, “The truth of the matter is you want me because I fed you, not because you believe in me!” He is telling them they are making a profound mistake, and he is bringing to them a new way of thinking and of being: to realise that life is more than eating!
And it is here we come close to the heart of the message of John’s gospel.
This chapter is to be understood on two levels. Jesus’s miracles are extraordinary deeds that rectify the situations of needy people – the sick, the hungry, the dying. But the results are not lasting unless the miracles are seen as signs pointing to the eternal gift of God in his son, Jesus Christ.
People in the crowd ask, “What do we need to do? And the answer is, “Belief is what matters, not works!” Trust in the one God has sent. Have faith in what he says and what he shows himself to be.
[Examples of this imperative: John 3:14-18, 36; 4:39-42; 5:24, 38, 44-47]
Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. Even the disciples find it difficult. [6:60-69] But Jesus speaks of it as the “work of God”, meaning not only what God desires but also what God gives.
The miracle that really matters is the miracle of faith, when God breaks through the misconceptions we have held about life, our pursuit of unsatisfying answers, our self-centred worlds, to reveal the radical new age embodied in and taught by Jesus.
A third question comes. The crowds compare ‘the feeding’ to the manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness, which came daily, quoting, “Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus replied that the giver is not Moses but “my Father”. And we note the present tense of the verb: God gives freely, now and forever, and without limit.
The crowds are still confused until Jesus reveals that he is the “Bread of Life”. The true bread is not manna from heaven but Jesus himself.
This statement of course upsets the Jews. And this underlines the difficulties of ‘faith’: the intellectual, cultural and religious barriers that stand in the way of believing, both then, and through to and including our day here and now.
And it is here we do well to remember that these difficulties are overcome by God’s grace – gifted to us by the Work of God, which makes our faith possible (v29).
When we look at today’s world we see that so much remains the same, has done throughout the ages. David, in the today’s Samuel reading, makes huge ghastly mistakes as he lives life selfishly. Then in Psalm 51 he repents, asks for and receives mercy and turns to live under God’s guidance.
In the Ephesians reading Paul gives guidelines to the church on how to live in unity; guidelines which apply as well to the church of today, being the fellowship of believers, ideally a family of one body with different gifts, working together for the good of all.
And for us, here today, in this time and place? I would say we work together with a belief and trust in Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, whom God has sent us. We step out in his name, within the community, to give help and comfort and service to others.
However I would say, too, that we who live in our little bubble of life here in Tairua are not stretched, we never go without, we are never deprived of the necessities of life in our giving. I wonder how people outside of our church see us?
Look around you, you who are here today. Take a deeper look. I wonder how you who are part of our church see us? Do you feel supported within our church family? If not, I think we need to know.
To finish, let me re-iterate. The true bread is not manna from heaven but Jesus himself, who said “I am the Bread of Life”.
Yes. We have been given Jesus, the Bread of Life!