My goodness there are times that the people in the Bible who follow Jesus just drive me round the bend! All the snarky passive aggressive things we say about people who make our lives hard go through my head. If I were to post a social media rant to these folks, it might look something like this…
If you think you get to earn something from Jesus just because you saw him do something, you are clearly not paying attention. What Jesus are you following that told you just because you happen to be in the right place at the right time you get to eat and get fat and then go work it off with your personal trainer? Or do you expect Jesus to take care of that, too? Can we talk about privilege? And then to think you can just perform a few tasks and get magical powers? Guess what. This isn’t about you!
And then, I remember that, well, it kind of is about me, not because there is something I can do to inherit Jesus’s favour, but because I am a follower of Jesus, and I am often guilty of looking for the easy way.
We are at week 2 of the Bread Discourse in John. We preachers look forward to this about as much as the weeks in Year C on money. Why do you think so many preachers take vacation in August? We see it coming and wonder how on Earth are we going to come up with something unique to say for 6 weeks. Thankfully we have the much more exciting narrative of David’s reign.
But as Karoline Lewis says, there is lots to be preached in these passages. She and her colleagues at Luther Seminary had a great conversation about this last week on the Sermon Brainwave podcast. It is worth a listen.
For this week, I would follow the dialogue statement by statement. There’s a lot here for self-examination.
- Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves: This immediately follows last week’s passage of Jesus appearing on the shore. The people sidle up to him. “Hey Rabbi. Fancy meeting you here.” Total setup for their demands. And Jesus gives them a zinger much better than mine. But how true it is. We get very excited about our faith when we feel we have received something–a prayerful revival, miraculous healing, a rise on the ladder–but how quick are we too keep seeking Jesus when we aren’t getting anything?
- What must we do to perform the works of God? Really? Didn’t Jesus just tell you to believe in Him? What about this whole faith thing makes you think that’s not enough? <rant over> And so Jesus responds again, to believe. Again, I can’t claim any expertise here. I’m often telling Christians what to do–feed the hungry, stand up for the oppressed, love your enemies, give from what you are given. That’s what faith looks like. But so does a lot of ways of living. We do these things not for praise or self-fulfillment but because we first believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
- What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Seriously? Did you just buy a ticket for the circus? Oh wait. No, you didn’t. You didn’t buy anything. He just showed up and fed all 5,000 of your unprepared selves! OK, maybe that last rant wasn’t quite over. Again, we ask the same questions. What have you done for me lately, Jesus? Where are the warm fuzzy feelings? Where are the powerful experiences? All I have is the drudge of the ordinary life.
- The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Is this what finally convinces the people that what Jesus has to offer is about more than their bellies? They are still looking for something from Jesus. Give us this bread forever! they cry. Unfortunately, we get the answer next week, “I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” Sigh.
This passage offers us the opportunity to ask what we are really looking for from God. With all that God promises, why is that not enough? It’s easy to point the finger at an increasingly market and consumption driven society, but what about us? Where are our disappointments?
Are we seeking something that God has already given to us? God has already provided all we need to feed the world, and yet we ask for loaves of dry barley bread to satisfy our bloated appetites. I am drawn back to the collect for last week offered to us in the Trial Use Collects and Seasonal Prayers from the Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002) alt.
Sustainer of the hungry
like a mother you feed your children
until each is satisfied.
Turn our eyes to you alone,
so that, aware of our own deepest longings,
we reach out with Christ
to feed others with the depth of your love. Amen.
God feeds us more than we can ask for. When we truly believe this, we stop focusing on our own bellies and start looking to those who are truly hungry. So when we are tempted to pray, “Give me this bread forever”, perhaps we should instead pray, “God, increase my faith”.