Gracious God, renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread. Amen
In the middle of a long, hot and dry summer, there seems no better time to have a series of gospel passages on the same theme: Jesus as the bread of life. In case you missed it, this series started last Sunday and extends for three more Sundays after this one. So five weeks in total; the good news is we are already in week 2!
Last week we examined the feeding of the five thousand and reminded ourselves that Jesus, for the author of the fourth gospel, begins to be seen as the Good Shepherd, which is front and centre in chapter 10.
Today’s passage, (which follows on from last weeks’), begins with the crowds looking for Jesus and the disciples. They expected to find him in the place where he had fed the five thousand, but he was not there. So those hungry for the bread that Jesus provided first at the picnic, went in search of him, by getting into boats and following him by heading for Capernaum.
On arrival they asked Jesus when he had arrived there. He suggests that rather than looking for the bread they ate at the picnic, food that would perish, they should look for the ‘food that endures for eternal life’, which the Son of Man (Jesus) could give them.
The search for Jesus here (suggests the commentator Lewis), links back to the outset of the fourth gospel when Jesus asks the disciples: ‘what are you looking for?’ This forms one of the central questions of the entire gospel. The same question comes again when Jesus is arrested, and yet again when Jesus says to Mary Magdalen, after the resurrection, when he asks Mary: ‘Whom are you looking for?’
Jesus, in asking the question in this passage today is seeking to make clear to the people that the food offered is not physical food, but the means for seeking eternal life. And Jesus wants his hearers to know that to do the work of God means to believe that Jesus is God on earth in human form. The crowd seeks a sign and Jesus tries to help them understand the meaning of the sign. What Jesus provides is fundamental to life, and here the crowd links his feeding of the five thousand with God’s provision. In the same way it was a God rather than of Moses, who gave the manna in the wilderness to the people of the Exodus. It follows that if God can care for crowds in the wilderness, so can God provide for 5000 seeking for the bread of life; which is Jesus himself.
As God provides ‘bread from heaven’ which gives life to the world, Jesus is speaking with the crowd who are the world, the world that God loves. As the feeding of five thousand represents a sign of God’s abundant love, which (suggests Lewis) is enough bread and fish to satisfy your hunger; the bread that gives life, is food to sustain life.
As in the narrative of the Samaritan women at the well, who asks Jesus to give him water from the well, the crowds here recognise their need of God and all that God can provide.
Therefore Jesus tells the crowds that he is the ‘bread of life’ and that those who come to him will never be hungry or thirsty. Jesus is the one to provide all that is needed to maintain life; so belief in Jesus means we will not be hungry or thirsty. The bread and water represent life, they symbolise abundant life, not for some moment in the future but for the here and now.
Jesus wants his hearers, the crowds, as well as ourselves, to know that the work of God is that we believe in the one whom God has sent; namely himself. Time after time John (author of the fourth gospel) calls on people to ‘believe’, to ‘have faith’, to ‘come to faith’. Jesus wants the people to have continuing and active faith in him. So when the crowds ask that he gives them the bread always, they are reminded that what they demand they already have, in the presence of Jesus.
It seems to me we spend quite a bit of our lives wondering what we are looking for: a job, a partner, friends, even a church. Our search should always focus first on God who seeks us and is there for us through the joys and sorrows, the highs and lows of our lives. For God is the One who gives direction and purpose throughout our days, for the earliest beginnings to our final breaths.
Our search should be for ‘food that endures for eternal life’ not on the perishables of life like money and power. We seek the God who constantly and consistently searches us out and wants to welcome us home.
Even the best meal, with the choicest ingredients will not satisfy our hunger long term; later that day or even the next we will be hungry again. When we look for Jesus, the ‘bread of life’ and come to him, never again will be hungry or thirsty. For God in Christ will gives us, when we draw near, everything we will ever need for life, not only today and tomorrow, but for all-time and for ever.