Yesterday was a pretty busy day for Jesus, he crossed the sea (by boat), fed 5,000 people, with five loaves of bread and two small fish, then seeing that the crowd misunderstood and wanted to make him something he was not, he went to be alone in the mountains. Then in the evening his disciples took their boats and were already out at sea when he decided to join them. Jesus, not one to let a silly thing like a giant body of water impeded his journey, sets out across the sea on foot. He meets them somewhere in the middle, justifiably frightening them by coming to them in this manner. Now they find themselves on the other side of the sea.
The crowd noticed the disciples leaving by boat, but do not seem to know where Jesus is, but they know one thing, they want to be where Jesus is. You see, the thing about eating is that no matter how much you have eaten, no matter how full, no matter how satisfied you are when you are finished, in just a matter of hours, you will be hungry again and will want to eat, again. The crowd, being made up of human beings with normal stomachs and normal needs, believe it or not, have managed to get hungry again. So, they follow the disciples figuring by following them, they can find Jesus. They seem to think that if Jesus can make bread, out of practically nothing, once, he could probably do it again. So they flag down some passing boats, hop in and say, “Follow those men!” And a herd of fishing boats chase after the disciples across the sea in the hopes of finding Jesus and some more bread.
Our text begins, this morning, with the crowd finding Jesus. Their mothers taught them little more manners than just going up to someone and demanding food, so they choose not to open with that. And ask a more obvious question, “Hey, you were not in the boat, how did you manage get here?”
Jesus, not one to put up with pretense, says, “Hey, I know why you’re here, you want more bread.” And then asks a not so obvious question, “Why are you working so hard to get food that perishes?” Why are you putting so much effort into getting something that you will continually need? We can do this every day. Over and over again, and we will always end up here with you wanting more bread and me telling you that I am not really all about that.” He tells them that they should be putting all their effort into gaining food that will not perish, food that will satisfy and leave them satisfied, food that will fill them and allow them to remain filled; food of eternal life, which is given to them by the Son of Man (which, spoiler guys, is me).
You see, for the crowd, this whole series of events has been all about the bread, but for Jesus is not really been about bread at all. It has been about the ONE who is the bread. It has been about ONE who satisfies, the ONE, whose fullness makes us full. Jesus is trying to point them to greater things, to higher things, Jesus is trying to show them WHO he really is and all they can think about is their bellies.
Now don’t get me (or Jesus) wrong, having enough food matters. Most of us probably eat more than we should and have never found ourselves truly hungry. Nor have we experienced hunger pains for a lengthy period of time, outside of a chosen period of fasting. But, there are many people in this world (some of which are hanging out under the overhang on of the library just around the corner to keep out of the rain this morning) who know the pangs of hunger more intimately and go longer without knowing the contented feeling of being full and satisfied than we would care to know. Jesus is aware of this. He is the one who fed them actual bread to begin with. Jesus knows and understands our needs. He understands that food is vital to our existence. But when he fed the people bread yesterday, he was hoping that once their bellies were full, they would see beyond the bread, to who he really is. The bread was an icon pointing them toward the ONE who is the bread, who brings satisfaction and who in all his fullness brings fullness, who in being broken and given to them, makes them whole.
But they are still not quite getting it. Jesus tells them not to work so hard for bread that cannot truly satisfy, but instead for enduring food that brings eternal life and all they hear is, “I am all out of fairy dust, the magical restaurant is closed.” So they begin to wonder if there is a fountain of fairy dust, which they can gather so they too can make bread. “How can we perform the works of God,” they ask. Deep breath . . . that is for God to do, the hope is that through these works you might come to believe in God and in the one who God has sent.
The food, the miracles, all of it is done in hope that people might believe. Jesus does many things throughout his life. Jesus understands human need. He understands that we listen better when our bellies are full. He understands the widows need to be comforted, the lame man’s desire to walk, the blind man’s to see and the leper’s for human contact. He understands our hurts, our fears, and our desperation. So often throughout his time here on earth Jesus performed a miracle to bring hope, health and healing to those who most needed it and he did these things because he did understand that sometimes before people can see and understand the truth of who he is, they need to have their most immediate and pressing needs met first. He reaches out touches and heals lepers, raises the widow’s son, heals the blind man and makes the lame walk and it is through these miracles, which work to meet needs first, that he reveals who he is, who sent him and what his true purpose on earth is.
If we follow Jesus’ example we must first work to meet the immediate needs of those who we hope to reach. Whether are doing that by sharing food and community at our park days and our community cookout, diapers to the parents of Hope’s Cradle, or food through our thanksgiving boxes, we are working at reaching out to the people around us first by the meeting of these needs and it is through the meeting of these needs that we hope to show them who Jesus is.
We must not be like the crowd and come to believe that it is primary all about the bread, all about the fun, food and games in the park, the burgers and salads at the cookout, the turkeys in the Thanksgiving baskets or diapers at the baby pantry. It is not primarily about the things we are doing, the food we are giving, the need we are meeting, it is about continually working to reveal the truth about who Jesus is, knowing first and foremost people need their bellies filled before they are even able to begin to understand why it is we have worked to fill their bellies or one whose behalf we have worked to fill their bellies. We give a cup of cold water so that once thirst is quenched people may begin to understand the living water. It is not good works for good works sake, it is not good works in hope of gaining salvation for ourselves, but it is good works in hope that in the work, they may see the one in whose name we do these things. We are continually working to be icons, point those around us toward Jesus Christ. We do everything we do so that they might believe.