read John 6. Have you ever finished a meal and realized you didn’t taste a single bite? Do people tell you to eat more slowly, and you plan to – and then somehow, you’ve got nothing left on your plate, and you’re not even sure what you ate? I have no idea what we’re even worried about when we begin to eat. Are we worried we won’t eat enough and be hungry? Are we worried we’ll eat too much? Are we worried about all the people who have no food? Is it an existential angst about our mortality? I really don’t know. But I do know this; I think worry when we eat is our fallback state. It seems to happen automatically, without our really being aware of it. But God asks us, over and over, not to worry about anything. So once, before eating, the words Jesus said came into my mind: “do not be anxious about your life; what you shall eat or what you shall drink,” and boom. I actually tasted every bite of my meal. As this small example suggests, if we trust God, and don’t worry, we enjoy our life more – even our meals. Why?
Perhaps the answer lies in Jesus’ words here in John 6: “don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.” John 6:27. Perhaps the problem is that God made us to be putting our energy into seeking eternal life.
But what does it mean to “spend our energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give” us? How do we do that? What are we supposed to do?
Apparently, even that question is a trap. When people asked Jesus that question, He said: “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29.
The “only work” God wants from us is to believe in Jesus? That’s it? All we can do is believe?
Yes. It’s a humbling concept. I don’t know about you, but it brings me up short every time I read it. Perhaps this is why Jesus “tested” Philip by asking him where they could buy bread to feed the 5,000 men and the uncounted women and children. Philip has to admit he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t “earn” it: “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them,” Philip says. John 6:7. That, in a nutshell, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even if we humans worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough to feed ourselves with what we really want – eternal life. We cannot earn the bread of heaven. We cannot earn eternal life. Only God could do it. What is impossible for us is possible for God, just as feeding all these people with real bread was possible for Jesus: “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people.” John 6:11. I love the next line: “and they all ate as much as they wanted.” John 6:11. We can have as much as we want of the bread that God gives. When we eat perishable food, we have to be careful. It’s easy to eat too much and feel ill. There is an anxiety involved. But eternal bread is apparently different. It’s the sort of thing of which we can have as “much as we want.”
Perhaps that is why Jesus follows the feeding of the 5,000 by walking on water. Perhaps in showing the crowd how God’s food fills us without weighing us down, Jesus is so full of joy He cannot help but walk on water. There is something so beautiful about the image of God walking on water. I think it’s because when we look out at a serene calm body of water, there is part of us that knows, deep down, that we ought to be able to walk on it. The water looks so still, so glassy and so strong. It’s kind of like flying in our dreams – we know the air is meant for flying. We know the seas are meant for walking on. We know that gravity – and all the things that that word implies, like evil, darkness, hatred, jealousy, strife, bitterness, envy and all the other difficult parts of our personalities that weigh us down – is not our natural state. We know that the earth should be our plaything – that we should be able to jump off of mountains, as the devil once tempted Christ to do, and soar instead of fall.
But how? The answer lies in Jesus words after He walks on water: “don’t be afraid. I am here!” John 6:20. The answer to how we can “fly” even in this life is the same as the example I started with. The answer is to trust God and know He is with us. When we walk with God, our spirits become so joyful we feel like we are walking on water, no matter what our circumstances are.
So how do we walk with God? The only way, apparently, is through God’s Son – it has to be. That’s because we can’t walk to God on our own. We are too weighed down by gravity. We needed God to walk to us. We needed God to die for our faults. This is both the offense of the gospel, and the thing that sets us free.
Jesus gives us this truth in its comfort and offense when He explains who He is. He explains that He is the bread of life: He says He is the “true bread… who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33. Jesus seems to be affirming and yet transcending our humanity in the same breath when He says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35. We do hunger. We do thirst. But we hunger and thirst for Him, in a way we don’t really understand. We underestimate our need for God. The people in this chapter certainly didn’t understand what Jesus was saying even though He was right in front of them; Jesus had to repeat Himself, over and over, and they still didn’t seem to get it. So apparently not getting it is our normal state. Not getting it isn’t something we should punish ourselves for. We need to “get over” our inability to “get it.” Instead, we just need to believe. We need to trust. We need to “feed” on Him (John 6:57)- without even needing to understand what that means.
The strange thing is that even though we find the sound of Christ’s words about being the bread of life so very comforting, we so often find these same comforting words offensive. We are like teenagers, scowling when our parents try to nurture us; being rude when our parents have good suggestions; scoffing when they point out healthy choices. “Does this offend you,” Jesus asks His disciples after He tells them He is the bread of life. John 6:61. Jesus then launches into the heart of what we, like teenagers find offensive: “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing.” John 6:63. Let me repeat those words:
“Human effort accomplishes nothing.”
That is the gospel. And that is what offends us. We want to believe our effort accomplishes something toward “achieving” eternal life. This bring us back to Philip and the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus asks each of us, to test us, how we can feed everybody. How can we feed all the hungry people around us? How can we feed ourselves? Do we really want to go on being anxious every time we eat, knowing, deep down, that nothing on this earth will ever truly satisfy us; knowing that we hunger and thirst for more than this world will offer; knowing we long to fly even though we don’t have wings; knowing we yearn to be able to walk on water, even though we would need to weigh the same as a gnat; knowing we want to eat and actually be satisfied? If so, are we willing to do the one simple and yet seemingly impossible thing God asks of us – to believe in the One He sent?
It is impossible to believe in Jesus; it’s impossible to believe we are so fallen we needed God to die for us. And yet the good news is, God takes care of the impossible part. If we start to believe, it’s because God has gifted us with faith – that’s why people who have faith are no “better” than anyone else. Jesus already died on the cross to make the impossible possible. He has suffered the agonies of hell for all of us. It’s even more personal than that. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20: “Jesus died for me.” Those are the words each of us can say: “Jesus died for me.” He died, and when we “eat” of His body, He lives inside us. We are to have a holy communion, a sacred meal, every day of our lives. Why would we choose anything else? If we are honest, we have to admit along with Saint Peter at the end of this chapter in John 6:68: where else could we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
The beautiful thing is, when we accept that we can’t feed others or ourselves; when we admit we need God’s Spirit; God comes in and transfigures not just our eternal life, but also our real life as well. We begin to take the time to smell bread before we eat it, and we enjoy it more. Bread truly smells delicious – even Wonder bread. Our senses – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing – become alive. The less we worry and the more we trust, every minute of every day becomes what it was meant to be – a sacred event, a holy feast, a fragrant meal to be savored, enjoyed and shared with the One we love who actually loves us back.
When does this happen? When we get hungry enough. Our hunger is a gift. Use it well.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on April 9, 2012