August 1, 2021 Tenth Sunday After Pentecost The text is John 6: 24-35.
24 When 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. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus 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. 27 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So 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? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then 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. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus 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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?” This is the question the crowd posed to Jesus in this morning’s reading from John’s gospel. What were they thinking, what more did they need? The crowd has followed Jesus and his disciples across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, where they asked him for a sign, for some proof that he was worthy of their belief in him.
This has happened just a few hours after he fed 5,000 of them with five loaves of bread and two fish. It’s likely that the crowd pressing him now for a sign included many of those who had just eaten their fill. Five loaves of bread and two fish miraculously became enough to feed 5,000 people, with leftovers, and this wasn’t enough of a sign for them? Just what were they looking for? What were they seeking?
Last week’s reading describing the feeding of the 5,000 begins chapter 6 in John’s gospel and serves as the starting point for five weeks of Sunday lessons that center on “bread”. This chapter is one continuous telling of Jesus’ attempting to lead his early followers to understand his nature as the Son of God. It seems they weren’t convinced by the miraculous sign they had witnessed; they challenged Jesus with a comparison to the story of the manna that sustained their ancestors in the wilderness at the time of the Exodus. John uses rather innocuous language to describe their challenge to Jesus; I suggest they may have been a bit more sarcastic. I can imagine them rather calling Jesus out with their comment; “Sure, you gave us bread and fish, but Moses gave the people manna!” “What makes your miracle so special?” Was it really about the bread? What were they looking for? What were they seeking?
The people who followed Moses complained that they were hungry in the desert while they trekked toward the Promised Land. They grumbled, “even though we were slaves in Egypt, we had plenty of bread to eat. Better we should have stayed there as slaves, at least we wouldn’t be hungry”. Moses was leading them to freedom in the land that God had promised them, yet they went so far as to say they preferred slavery to hunger pangs. Was it really about the bread? What were they looking for? What were they seeking?
Were the people following Moses and those flocking to Jesus simply in search of full stomachs? If so, the people fleeing Egypt could have chosen to remain under the heel of the Pharoah; the crowds drawn to Jesus might just as easily stayed at home and ate their fill. It wasn’t about the bread! St. Augustine wrote that we humans have a “God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill”. We endlessly search for something with which to fill this emptiness, and the truth is, it can only be remedied by allowing God to occupy the space.
The people of the Exodus were searching to fill the God-shaped hole, as were the crowds who sought out Jesus, and so has humanity been doing since we were banished from the Garden. Abraham Maslow published a paper in 1943 entitled “A theory of Human Motivation”. His work has been studied by generations of psychology students. The central theme of his observations is what is called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and it is usually depicted as a five-tiered pyramid showing humankind’s requirements to achieve a fulfilled, satisfied, content life. The lowest level shows the most elemental need, that of basic sustenance; food, water, shelter. Let’s call this the “bread” that Moses’ and Jesus’ followers thought they were seeking. Maslow states that once the basic need of survival is met, people are then able to seek security, a sense of belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization; that is having the freedom to utilize one’s talents and abilities. In later versions, Maslow found that this was not, after all the pinnacle of people fulfilling what we need to thrive. He later added that the full realization of humanity’s potential was a reaching beyond the self; he called this the desire to reach the infinite. It seems Maslow eventually came to understand that it’s not about the bread, he found himself yearning to fill Augustine’s “God-shaped hole” in the heart of humanity.
In John’s gospel we read of the seven “I am” statements of Jesus. You know them, “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the vine”, “I am the Way”. This morning we hear the first one, “I am the Bread of life”. Jesus isn’t offering basic earthly nourishment, but belief in him as the Son of God ensures that we will be provided with the sustenance we need for life eternal. Christ Jesus serves as connection with the infinite that Maslow came to understand we humans need in order to live fulfilled lives. Jesus is the manna from God that the people credited Moses with providing. Christ is the puzzle piece that precisely fits the “God-shaped” hole in our hearts. For those of us who have come to acknowledge that Jesus fills the missing part in our hearts, the search is over. We know what we were looking for, what we sought, because we have found it. We know that it’s not about the bread; at least not the earthly kind.
Jesus Christ, the true bread of heaven feeds us, sustains us with the promises of God; we are loved, forgiven, and by the grace of God, we are promised everlasting life.
In a moment we will celebrate the Eucharist; we will partake of the wine and the bread that are the blood and body of our Savior, Jesus. We will once again take within ourselves the heavenly food that unites us with Christ, with God, and with one another. You are invited to reflect upon the words that Jesus spoke to the crowd in Capernaum; “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” We are blessed to be called to Christ’s table, to know that our belief in Jesus is what secures for us life eternal. It is not about the bread, it’s Jesus himself that we take within ourselves. Martin Luther writes that Jesus is present, “in, with, and under” the elements of the Eucharist. With Jesus abiding within us we are free to enjoy the abundant life that is God’s intention for God’s people; and that, unlike the crowds we do not require signs to confirm Jesus’ nature as Savior. We trust in Jesus when he assures us, “I am the bread of life”. We believe this truth; we know that Jesus brings us to life. It’s not about the bread.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, there is a space within our hearts that only you can fill. We yearn for your presence in our lives; we know that abundant life is only possible by your grace, in this world and in the one to come. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the “bread of life”, who prepares in our hearts the place for you to reside. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.