Evangelism and church growth emphases often leave the impression that the more people who follow Jesus, the better. The scripture from John 6 this week will challenge the easy correlation between popularity and discipleship, when Jesus observes that the crowd seeks him, not as the sign sent from heaven, but as a provider of bread. Seeking “food that perishes” is to see the feeding story as a way of filling one’s belly. Seeking “food that endures to eternal life” is to see the feeding as a sign that Jesus is the one sent from heaven.
A key term in this story and throughout John’s gospel is “eternal life” which is different from the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul. The phrase literally reads “life of the ages,” and has much to do with life of the present, but life in a way that has lasting, non-perishable value. So, how are the Scriptures are fulfilled in Christ? In the first case, Jesus clarifies that it is “God” and not “Moses” who provides the bread from heaven to eat. In the second case, Jesus points to himself as the sign that is sent from heaven, resulting in the “I AM” saying, “I AM the bread of life.” In the end, the “work” that the crowd is to do is to believe that Jesus is God’s provision for life and sustenance.
We live in a fast-food world. We can buy just about anything between two pieces of bread or two halves of a roll. Few of us have ground wheat by hand; a few more have baked bread. Most go right to the store. The people Jesus met knew the complex and time-consuming process of making bread and the never-ending chore of drawing water. This man, Jesus claimed to be the one who would eliminate not only hunger and thirst but the effort required to relieve them. I know this is a metaphor. I cannot understand not understanding him— except when I can.
It’s like saying to your child who is about to go to University, “Cheryl, have you made your choice of University yet?” Her sibling in the back of the vehicle asked this question all through the holidays, as often as “Are we there yet?” He is seven and interested in her, and he wants to understand. We tried to explain that you can like some Universities, but then you have to be sure they not only like you but they have the course you want to do before you can decide which one you like the best. That answer was too complicated, so he asked the question again. “Cheryl, have you found your University yet?” Finally, she said, “It’s the same answer as the last time you asked me.”
I wonder if Adam Goodes feels the same way. Adam has been gifted by God and has shared those gifts with us. Part of that has been a challenge to take stock in who we are and what we value. Like Jesus, Adam challenges us as to where we have fallen short. We are challenged about our failure to deal with the bigotry that is in each one of us. A challenge to seek the eternal bread not be guided by greed, bigotry and so on. I thank Adam for that reminder of the need to be vigilant about what I do and say, because like anyone else I can be racist. I also thank Jesus for the reminder about what is enduring. Are we there yet? Well I am still left wondering.
Are we there yet? We should be. We’re two thousand years past the people following Jesus, pushing closer to ask him who in the world he is. We understand the metaphor. Well, we understand that there is such a “thing” as a metaphor, that Jesus isn’t actually bread or water. But are we there yet? I think we’re still asking him, a little desperately, “Who are you?” It’s the same answer as the last time we asked. He is the Living Bread. Come to him and never be hungry. Just as a final comment I reflect again on the events of this week and ponder humanities situation before our God. Are we there yet? More than likely not - but I pray we are on the path - but I am still left wondering.