There was this great picnic, see, and lots of people got free food and it was a wonderful thing, and free food always is.
But this morning, we are looking at the aftermath of the picnic, and things aren’t looking all that great for Jesus. It seems that he has suddenly lost status in the most recent popularity poll.
With the picnic, Jesus absolutely outdid himself. On the day of the picnic, Jesus made the wilderness bloom. With only five tiny loaves of bread and two small fish, Jesus fed over five thousand people. It was a glorious miracle and a wonderful thing, and everyone went home happy and satisfied, and there was lots of stuff left over, but now there’s a problem. In spite of strong encouragement to “do it again”, Jesus isn’t about to deliver. He’s being stubborn.
In Hebrew, and later Jewish thinking, there was the expectation that as the end times approached, that a prophet similar to Moses would show up and usher in a brand new, golden age for the people of God. And maybe similar to our own time, here in 2018, many good Jews living in first century Palestine believed that it was high-time for this prophet to show up. If there ever was a time for a new Moses to appear on the scene, it was during the first century. The people were yearning for deliverance from the oppressive rule of the Romans. “Send us a prophet, O Lord, any prophet will do, just get us out of here! We’re tired of this place!”
And along comes Jesus, and what can he do? He can make the desert bloom. He can produce bread in the wilderness. And don’t think that the people weren’t making the strong connection between Jesus and Moses. As soon as the picnic was over, and the fragments of food were gathered up, people were saying, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” That’s back in verse 14 of this same chapter.
And so the next day, what is the reasonable expectation? It is of course, more food. “Do it again Jesus! Prove to us that you are indeed the prophet who is to come into the world. If you are the new Moses, ante up. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
You see, so far, there’s this huge disconnect between Jesus and Moses. Moses pulled the miracle off every day, or at least nearly every day. Every day, except for the Sabbath, the manna showed up. And the day before the Sabbath, folks could gather up enough manna to last them through the Sabbath. And that was a great thing, at least in retrospect. Memory is almost always better than reality. In truth, the people hated the stuff. They despised it; they quickly grew tired of it. And that may very well be part of the lesson that Jesus is attempting to teach in our passage this morning. Anyone who’s ever had a kid standing in front of an open refrigerator door and declaring that “There’s nothing to eat in this house”, knows exactly what I’m talking about. Daily bread can get dull, it can lose its allure. And quite frankly, a daily diet of fish and bread wouldn’t take long to set me to complaining either. And so Jesus says, “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.”
In other words, don’t be grasping, don’t be spending all of your energy trying to grab hold of the things that only satisfy for a time, grab instead, for the things that last for eternity. Food for the soul is far more important than food for the body. Now I’ll admit, that’s a tough truth to embrace, because in the world of jobs and bills and mortgages, a lot of our energy goes into that sort of stuff. And its practical stuff and reasonable stuff, but even at its best, it is only temporary. None of the stuff that we labor so hard for in this life will see us one moment beyond the grave.
Besides, like manna, and like a daily diet of bread and fish, eventually that stuff gets boring, it loses its shine, and it never really seems to satisfy. And so Jesus wants to challenge us to work for other nourishment. This nourishment of which Jesus speaks, never grows old, never loses its shine, and never exhausts us in our struggle to attain it. This bread is free. And instead of exhausting us, it strengthens us and nourishes our souls. What is this bread? The people around Jesus that day were very intrigued by it, they said to Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always” I think they were thinking about the stuff that’s made from grain and yeast, but maybe they were also thinking that even though it was made of grain and yeast, that it was better somehow, more satisfying than even manna or regular bread.
The bread of which Jesus speaks is himself. It is his life, his words, his divine origin, his eternal existence, but for us, mostly it is his life. This is the Lord on whom we live. This is the Lord Jesus who satisfies our deepest cravings; the ones that are in the hidden places of the soul. This is the Lord who by satisfying the deepest longings of our souls helps us to put into perspective the daily struggles of life that so frequently vex us. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Do we believe that Jesus can satisfy us so completely?