People hate to hear the stone-cold truth. We’ll do everything we can to not own our motives, agendas, especially our outright lies. Yet Jesus has no truck with any of that crud.
There was a time when Jesus withdrew across a lake after feeding a massive herd—5,000-ish all told. And once he’s gone from the herd’s sight, the 5,000-ish launch a flotilla to find him. It went down like this:
“24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (NRSV)
So perhaps the people are hacked off, or at the very least incredibly anxious or afraid, that their meal ticket and his wait staff have left the seaside cafe. If this is the case, and it seems to be so because the first thing the herd says to Jesus is not a praise, welcome, or greeting—but the pointed question. “Rabbi, when did you come here.” It’s the rude remark of ones caught in the start of surprise for they have no idea when or how Jesus moved through them, around them, behind them, maybe even boated off or walked away on water to make an exit.
In this confusion has the herd become one big angry mob that wants their meal ticket?
Are they entitled, in their minds, to seek Jesus and demand an account from him?
They seem to act as if this is so. Perhaps they’re in that yucky space where let-down meets anger. Maybe they’re in their very own emotional moment akin to when a frustrated, frightened, angry parent finds their child blissfully playing with a toy in an aisle after the child has moved two stores away from the store where the family were gathered to shop. It’s the whole “let-down, angry parent demands an answer of the child” scene going down with parent saying, “When did you wander off?” The child could have just as well said, “Your eyes weren’t on me.”
And, again, in the face of the impertinent question Jesus has no truck with any of that crud. He nails ’em with the stone-cold truth.
The response Jesus provides never answers the question asked of him. He turns the focus to the herd and their issues. Jesus says, “…You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Blam—called out. Stone-cold busted by the hard truth…that all the herd wanted was their meal ticket.
And it would do us well to reflect on this a bit. For six times the “Feeding of the 5,000” is recorded in the four Gospels—and not one word of the teachings done there by Jesus in that space with that throng is contained in any of the six accounts. What we see is the story of what happened, yet not word one of the teaching that was taught remains. I wonder if that is because humans were more interested in eating their fill of the loaves that day than hearing the words of their teacher, and even experiencing Jesus for who who he was. This certainly seems to be the case. Perhaps this is why he has to redirect them from the food back to himself. Perhaps he’s like the child who says, “Your eyes weren’t on me.”
So, Proclaimers, the question stands before us. Can we face the stone-cold truth that we might be more about eating our fill of the loaves than being enthralled by the loaf-multiplier?
Is my comfy bed (a loaf) so comfy that in truth I cling to it to please me rather than rise from it to help others? Lay in it on Sunday rather than go to be in the presence of Jesus gathering and teaching the herd?
Is my secure income (a loaf) such security that in truth I use it to please me rather than consider how God might be using it through me to make a difference in God’s world? Buying whatever pleases my wants and distracts me from joining Jesus as Jesus engages a world and meets its needs?
Is my share of attention from others (a loaf) so satisfying that in truth I do anything and everything to take my share and the share of others to feed my needy ego? Make myself the center and thus push others into the margins and do it will all joy, rather than forsake the center and join Jesus who walks in those margins giving attention to those who receive it the least?
What loaves do we demand of Jesus? A healed body? A perfect marriage? A more adventurous sex partner? A life free from challenge or pain? A bigger bottom line in the profit column? A finer house? A life that never compels us to change?
Jesus can provide all those things—but he is not our meal ticket. He is not obligated to provide any of it. Jesus is not the God-o-matic which pops out a blessing with every praise offering. He is not enthralled by our search for stuff, and certainly not our expectation that he will work on our behalf for stuff that will not last, and it would do us well to remember that Jesus is not obligated to provide any of it. Jesus came to give himself, not give bread.
This is perhaps why the crowd is not offered food when they find Jesus. Jesus has no obligation to meet every perceived human want, need, dream, or hope of people—because he offers something better—he offers himself. 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
That is the stone-cold truth. The Son of Man gives us himself. GIVES. No working to it—it’s a gift. But—let’s be honest—-we don’t want to receive this gift because the loaf-multiplier isn’t half as attractive to us as twelve bushels of bread. Will our proclamation this Sunday be all about loaves or will our eyes be fixed on Jesus?