1 August 2021 | Revd Phil Austin
Imagine the surprise of these people when they saw Jesus arriving in one of the disciples’ boats. They had seen Jesus send the disciples out to sea even before the crowd dispersed. They had seen Jesus remain until they and the crowd were all gone and the food gathered. While the crowd ran ahead to Jesus’ next destination, the Lord had stayed behind to pray. No wonder they gasped when they saw him and said in wonder; “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Have you sought the Lord on an unfamiliar shore? Have you found yourself at a port where you felt Jesus could not possibly be found? Then take hope from this reading; Jesus will beat you there. He is waiting and will welcome you to shores unfamiliar and situations that seem impossible.
Christ draws an interesting line in the sand in this reading. He fed the crowd once in compassion but admonishes them when they come back for more handouts. His primary point is similar to saying; “You wait for the bucket to come to you but you won’t go to the well yourself.”
There is something much deeper that Christ seeks to offer these people than mere physical sustenance; he wants to give them dignity! A person with dignity is never powerless; they will never be anyone’s slave or prisoner. A person with dignity has the power to reform their world. A person with dignity has the power of hope and can give dignity to others. Christ tells us that God has given him the authority and power to grant that dignity to all who love him.
God “set His seal” on Jesus, the authoritative title and letterhead to sign all and any contracts on God’s behalf. Jesus longs to set his seal on us. It says, “This one is mine and death cannot steal him or her.” Yet these followers only wanted food. They wanted the bucket of water brought to them; they didn’t want to walk to the source.
Food that is unused rots, and water that is without movement turns stagnant. Anything that’s left static begins to decay. The muscle that is not stressed atrophies; and research even shows that the brain that is unchallenged loses the ability to perform critical thinking skills. But are we exercising our spirit? If faith were a competition would we be couch potatoes or endurance athletes?
Can you think of meals that will last forever? Here’s a hint, think more about the fellowship than the food. I remember special meals with my family, Christmas meals, serving lunch at the St Columba haakari, or dinner with a friend just released from jail. I don’t remember the particulars – the breads, salads – oh but yes I do remember the dessert being the trifle, family! – but more importantly I remember the joy, how much better it feels to give rather than get.
This is food eternal, the food of compassion, community and Christ.
The crowd’s response to Jesus is simple; “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Whether it was spoken in earnest or just to get Jesus to serve up more bread is something we can only answer by placing ourselves in the situation. Do we go to Christ to just be fed or also to be sent? It isn’t hard to tell if Chris and I just use this church to meet our social needs or if we accept nothing less than a church that will push us to take part in Christ’s Great Commission, because we are called to this path; it’s not a matter of choice. Like for Chris and myself, Our Lord had a surprising answer for us as he does for others who seek his eternal food and ask; “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”
So what is the most accurate description of what Christ asks of us? To prove our faith by doing the deeds that Christ sends us forth to do. And what are these deeds?
In this reading, the heart of the crowd was laid bare. It becomes clear that what they really wanted was an easy life and furthermore, for Jesus to provide it. They basically say; “If you give us forty years of free manna like Moses gave the Israelites; then we promise to follow you around and eat it.” For this crowd gathered, even the feeding of the five thousand wasn’t enough; “What are you going to do for us today?” Is this familiar; “Lord, I’ll follow you—but you have to give me a sign first”. Then, we sit back to see what he is going to do for us.
These people want the manna of Moses and totally miss the man of God. Why is it that we want only the “perishable” gifts of this world? We want the bread of the day but not the field where the grain sprouts. Jesus is the grain field! He is the rich soil, he plants the seeds and provides the water that bears life, but we have to provide the labour. Unfortunately, for these people who were following Christ 2,000 years ago (and for some of us today) that was the catch. We just want to be fed—not led—but the Kingdom simply doesn’t work like that.
Jesus, the true bread, will easily escape our notice if we are only focused on the “bread” of this world.
Here is one of the richest terms in scripture from one of the richest verses. ‘Whatever you hunger for, whatever you thirst for, whether is it hope, love, acceptance, grace or peace – Jesus can give it.’ Jesus says; “Come to me.” He hungers to meet our needs. How many ways can Jesus invite us into love and into life? We have all we need to plant grain – we should not expect to be hand-fed. If we hunger for hope then we must give it to others. If we hunger for love then we must start by loving others. If we thirst for acceptance, grace and peace, then we must first accept all others.
For we will never receive a crop that we do not plant.
Let us pray:-
you have shown us the bread that never perishes,
you are the bread of life;
may we hunger for that bread above all else
and seek to feed others with your life-giving love.
For you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.