Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Year B
The problem with a really good meal, is that when you are completely satisfied and you say, “my complements to the chef,” and you pat your belly thinking to yourself that you will never need to eat again, in a few hours or sometime the next morning you get hungry and have little memory of how satisfied you were at the last meal.
This is the situation we find ourselves in with today’s Gospel. Jesus has just fed the five-thousand the prior day and the crowd has recognized Jesus to be the prophet they have been expecting, so much so, that they wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their king, but Jesus escapes and crosses over the sea of Galilee to Capernaum.
So what do the crowds do? They follow Jesus to the other side and when they find him they ask, “when did you come here?” Kind of an odd question. It could be that they mean, “fancy meeting you here, Jesus, when did you come here?” Or, probably more to the point, “we lost track of you and have been searching for you and didn’t know how to find you and we heard you might be over here.”
Jesus response is telling, “you weren’t really looking for me, you were looking for your next meal. Don’t you know that the signs you saw me do, including the miracle of feeding you, were not for the sake of the signs themselves, but to point you to a greater reality – me!” The very reason John calls these miracles of Jesus “signs” is so we will see who Jesus is.
Signs always point to something beyond themselves. In other words signs are not self-referential. A stop sign doesn’t mean for you to stop and gaze at the red-shaped octagon and wonder at its design. It is meant to protect you from on-coming traffic. So the signs or miracles of Jesus were meant to point you to something deeper than the miracle, a sign of who Jesus is and why he has come. And the feeding miracles, as all miracles in the scriptures, are meant to point us back to their source, this mysterious God whom Jesus calls Father.
Jesus, playing the part of a new Moses, the deliverer of God’s people from bondage, engages the crowd in a teaching moment, in the midst of their apparent desire to be fed again, to have their temporary needs met, while not seeing their deeper need for spiritual nourishment. Jesus says, “do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” To which the people respond, “how do we perform or engage in this work that you say will give us eternal life?” In other words, “wow, Jesus, we want some of that, how do we get it?” Jesus responds with a rather simple statement, essentially – “trust in me.”
The crowd, listening to their stomachs more than to the words of Jesus says, “yeah, but what sign are you going to give us, so that we will trust in you?” Seriously!? These people have the audacity, after having seen everything that Jesus has done and having already been fed by him a day earlier, say, “well, you know, Moses gave our ancestors bread from heaven to eat, so maybe you could feed us like that, just so we can make sure you are who you’re telling us you are.”
Jesus responds, “you short-sighted people, don’t you know it wasn’t Moses who gave your ancestors bread, it was God! And that manna from heaven was itself a sign of something that you are now experiencing, the true bread of life, me. Because I am here to show you that real living is when you are connected to the God I call Father, the source of all things, the lover of all creation, and the provider of true meaning for your lives.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” One of the reasons the church’s pattern has always been to make Eucharist every Lord’s day is to celebrate what God has done in Christ and to remind us in a very tangible way that God is present with us to strengthen us to live as Jesus has taught us to live; so we might find a deeper meaning for our lives as we partake of these symbols and signs of Jesus’ life, that were given so that we might give ourselves to each other and the world.
When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God he often used the metaphor of a great banquet. It is like a royal wedding banquet where everyone has been invited, both good and bad. At his most remembered meal, Jesus took off his robe and washed the others’ feet as though he were their servant. He took the bread and the wine, blessed it, broke the bread and gave it to his companions with words that identified that act of table communion with his immanent death.
That following Easter Sunday, they knew him in the breaking of the bread. The disciples experienced his victory over death, his resurrection, as they repeated the familiar activity of eating together. Christians have known Jesus to be present in precisely the same way for nearly two thousand years. The church knows itself to be nourished by Christ in the bread broken and the wine poured out. We become what we eat, the Body of Christ, taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world.
We call that a sacrament. It is our word for the experience of the spiritual within the material. Maybe you remember from your Confirmation classes — A sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." Traditional Christian spirituality recognizes the two essential sacraments instituted by Jesus himself, baptism and the Eucharist, but we also have a tradition of recognizing the sacramentality of the whole of creation. Every table, every meal can be "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."
Come to this table with open hands, open hearts, and receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Know yourself to be the welcome guest of God at this festive banquet. As you eat and drink, experience yourself as completely loved of God. Let the mutual delight of this holy table fill you with thanksgiving.
For this meal is how we experience that we are the Body of Christ, given for all the world. We are a Holy Communion. Indeed, through this sacred meal we become the gifts of God for the people of God.