Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ August 1, 2021
Texts: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35
Context: In 2012 I noted how switching the Gospel readings to John 6 for the next three weeks provided a more in-depth reflection on the feeding of the 5000 we read a few weeks ago in Mark. While I still find it odd to take this sudden swerve out of Mark and focus for so long on this piece of Jesus’ life and ministry, it does have advantages. What, after all, were the disciples supposed to make of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, which Mark indicates they didn’t understand? For that matter, what are we? Jesus’ teaching then in John 6 is very helpful here, moving us beyond a momentary obsession with the miraculous or the delicious and focusing our sight where it needs to be, on the eternal which is present in Jesus. Of course God has a long history of providing food for his people, so we have the reading from Exodus 2. The psalm takes up this reality and calls us to continue passing the story of God’s provision down to the next generations. Ephesians reminds us God continues to feed us as He raises up servants and pours his gifts upon them to call them to service – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers.
Exodus 16:2-15 – It might be easy for Christians today, much-divorced from our Jewish roots and often dull and ignorant of the Old Testament of our own Bible to miss what the crowds (and certainly Jesus’ disciples!) should not have – in miraculously providing bread and meat to thousands of people, Jesus was echoing the gifts of God in bread and meat to his Old Testament people. Further, this leads us to consider once again how Jesus is the embodiment of all God’s people, and as such is also a retelling of God’s relationship with his people. God provided for the Israelites as He led them towards the land He prepared for them to settle in and care for, where their needs would be provided for from the land which was God’s means for blessing them. Now Jesus feeds the people, providing for them as He leads them to himself, the living Promised Land who will be the means of God’s grace and forgiveness which will, in turn, allow his people to return to our eternal Promised Land in the City of God. We should give thanks daily for the First Article gifts of God the Father in sustaining us both physically (bread and meat) as well as spiritually (Word and Sacrament).
Psalm 145:10-21 – In our hyper-individualized American culture even the communal experience in faith becomes more oriented towards ourselves. What has God done for me? How do I feel about my relationship with God? The antidote to this spiritual navel-gazing is the firm reminder that God is the Creator in ongoing relationship with his creation. As such, our individual experiences are contextualized against the larger story of God’s work of redemption. We are not each an individual story or beginning, but rather part of the one story of God with one In the beginning and one conclusion as foreshadowed in Revelation. Even when we cannot find the strength or joy to praise God for what is happening in our lives at the moment, we are able to give him thanks and praise for all He has done not only for us but for his creation as a whole and his covenant people. It is this larger context that gives us a realistic hope for the future. Passing through an airport recently I noticed a large brightly lit sign with a picture of someone with arms upraised at the exit of a tunnel, a blinding brightness of sunlight and green enveloping this person who, presumably, had recently been encased in darkness. The caption simply encouraged people to hold on because things will get better. But on what basis can such a claim be made? Simple, naive or even foolish optimism? This is not the case for the people of God! We are called to hope, and that hope is real and true. That hope has a basis – in our own lives as well as in the lives of God’s people through history – and it also has a firm promise to sustain it. For those in Christ, truly things will get better, even if they are wonderful at the moment.
Ephesians 4:1-16 – Having prayed the Ephesians would be strengthened in power and rooted and grounded in love (3:14-19) Paul encourages and exhorts them to live as those who have indeed received these blessings. This is not a generic or vague call to being “good”, but Paul is very specific and detailed about what this should look like. Humility, gentleness and patience are to characterize their loving interactions with one another as believers. Their goal should be to maintain unity in peace through God the Holy Spirit who dwells in their midst. They who have been united in one confession of faith and one baptism are to live out this reality of unity in their daily dealings with one another. We who have been graced in Christ with all good things are to press on in this life towards our eternal life to come. This will anchor us against the shifting tides and sands around us of culture and contemporary concerns. Our groundedness in Christ should be an anchor against being tossed about, and in the larger context this may imply tossed about against each other in conflict or anything unbecoming brothers and sisters in Christ.
John 6:22-35 – The crowds who were fed miraculously by Jesus are quite hard-working when it comes to figuring out where He now was! He didn’t get into the boat with his disciples, so presumably they searched and inquired about the region where He was the night before. But to no avail! So when boats came who could take them farther afield, they jumped on board and headed for the place Jesus used as a home base for his ministry – Capernaum. Their sleuthing pays off and they find Jesus, at which point are they embarrassed when they find him? Is their eagerness and endeavoring suddenly awkward to them, so that they try to engage Jesus in preliminary small talk? Or are they genuinely curious as to how He could come so far so quickly without a boat? Are they probing for more miraculous signs to be entertained by?
Regardless, Jesus is not in the mood for small talk. He calls out the crowd for their motivation – full stomachs rather than spiritually enlightened minds. Like his disciples they didn’t understand why Jesus had fed them – perhaps they too missed the connection with God’s feeding of his people in the wilderness in Exodus? Hardly surprising if so! But if they’re going to work that hard just hoping for another free lunch, how much better that they apply themselves to things that matter, to eternal life and the Son of Man who alone can provide it to them!
They miss this last point – eternal life is the gift given by the Son of Man. Who is able and willing to do so because of God the Father’s intentions through him. Instead, they pick up on the idea of work. You think we’re hard working? Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it! We’ll work for that eternal life! We’ll work for God! But that’s not the point either, otherwise Jesus might have commanded them to bake bread instead of miraculously providing it to them! They have nothing to contribute, however. The work of God is entirely the free gift of God’s love. They can either receive it (believe) or ignore or reject it.
Note the crowd clearly understands what Jesus is getting at – they know He’s calling them to faith and belief in him. The only reasonable context and setting for this is in terms of being the Messiah. If that’s what Jesus is getting at, they want to see his credentials. Ironically they bring up the manna God provided the Israelites as an example of what they want to see from Jesus, completely missing that this is exactly what He did the night before!
Jesus knows they’re missing the point, in part because they assume Moses is who provided the manna, and Jesus is equating himself to Moses and therefore needs to prove his case. But Jesus isn’t comparing himself to Moses at all. Moses didn’t provide the manna, God did! And Jesus provided bread for them last night, showing himself to be God who has come down from heaven to give not just bread but life to the world.
This time, however, God is not merely providing bread. The most important food God is giving to his people is not mere manna, but Jesus himself, the Son of God come down from heaven. Simple bread is impressive but it doesn’t last. But what Jesus gives to them in himself will last forever. Jesus is the essential thing they need more than daily bread itself, and when Jesus gives himself up to be broken on their behalf, they will be filled to the fullest forever.