Today's passage: John 6:22-53
I think that Tiberius, Capernaum and many of the little sea towns along the sea of Galilee were going through lean times. Shortly after Jesus fed the five thousand plus gathered that day, the gospels tell us that Jesus sent the crowd home, he went up into a mountain to pray (it was evening before he emerged again) and sends his disciples towards Capernaum by ship. By evening, the disciples are still struggling against the brewing storm to arrive at their destination. The gospels tell us in varying detail, how Christ walks on the water (Peter walks too) to the ship and delivers the ship safely to the shore on the other side. The following day, I guess the people in Tiberias were expecting another miracle because even though they were aware that the disciples had left, they seem to expect Jesus to still be there, since he had stayed behind the day before. When they discover He also has departed, they board ships and follow Him. When they meet up with Him, Jesus tells them the only reason they want to see Him is so they can get food. Before they went to Him for the miracles, now they went to Him because they were hungry. Sea towns would be populated with fishermen. Maybe there had not been many great catches that year. Maybe the Roman government had pocketed the little these people were able to earn. Whatever the reason, these people wanted another free meal.
This chapter has often been called "The Bread of Life" discourse. The people want bread, He tells them about the Living Bread. The people want to eat, He tells them about how they can be full. I find it interesting that the people actually request Jesus to work a miracle, to prove He is who He says He is, the day after He had just worked one. Had they not clearly seen the day before that He had fed an unbelievably large crowd with five loaves of bread and two fishes? I'm wondering about the very back of the crowd. Maybe they hadn't been eyewitnesses, maybe they had just been told by the people up front what had taken place. Could these be the people who wanted to witness a miracle with their own eyes, rather than having it relayed to them by the actual witnesses? The bottom line was they just wanted to be fed. They try to coax Him by comparing Him to Moses who gave the people manna, bread from Heaven. It seems they think that if they let Jesus know they believe He is in a league with the likes of Moses, He might be flattered enough to show them what He can do. Jesus debunks this attempt right away. He makes it clear that Moses did not give them bread from heaven. I smile a little bit when later in the passage Jesus tells them, "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead." The manna they ate did not give them everlasting life. If that were the case, they would have been clamoring for bread with the rest of this crowd.
The people seem almost desperate in their desire to see Jesus provide another meal. Jesus does not comply. He will meet all of our needs, but He is not a food cart. He doesn't call out like a vendor at the ballpark, "Popcorn, get your fresh, hot popcorn". He doesn't wend His way through a crowd like a waiter and ask "What can I get you today? Were you satisfied with your meal? Would you like dessert?" I think sometimes we forget who God really is. Sometimes I do not give Him the awe and reverence He deserves, because He is a personal God. He wants that close relationship to me, but I shouldn't treat Him like the kid in the candy store. "I want that, and I want this, and go ahead and throw that into the cart." God wants me to ask Him for things. He wants me to go to Him with my needs, He wants me to take advantage of Him, but not in a spoiled-brat-you'll-do-it-because-you-love-me sort of way.
The real lesson Jesus is teaching these people is that the reason they are here today is that they feel hunger again. Why? Because the bread they were given the day before wouldn't last them. It was only temporary, it would fill their bellies for a few hours and they would be hungry again. Those hunger pangs they were feeling right now was because they needed something more filling. They needed bread that would last. Even the wilderness manna only lasted for a day. Jesus does not feed the crowd again, because He wants them to be hungry for Him. He wants their growling stomachs to remind them that a few loaves and fishes will only last them for one meal. The Bread he gives will last for eternity. I can donate to the poor, I can give money to a homeless man on the street, I can even buy a meal for a beggar, but if I neglect to give them God's Word with all that, what have I actually done? I have filled their belly for a few hours. People need something more substantial. People need to be given the Bread of Life. People need to eat a meal that will fill them forever. Am I doing all that I can to feed those that are hungry? Or am I giving them a few fish and loaves to last them only today?