Today we’re focusing on John 6:1-21, with Jesus feeding hungry folks in the wilderness. Yes, this is a tale of a culinary miracle wherein a small amount of fish and bread were multiplied. The first noteworthy item is that the crowd following Jesus did so because of his earlier healings. Jesus’ had a wonder-working reputation and this drew gawkers alike. Then as now, spectacular events have an allure all their own. Jesus didn’t seem to encourage a cult of personality, but his miracles drew crowds and that is just how things work.
The second noteworthy item is the actual miracle of multiplying the food. Here’s a suggested equation for this drama: Jesus + miraculous reputation = hungry crowd. The individuals in the crowd knew that they’d need food after lingering in the wilderness. More than this, I sense that they knew Jesus could feed them. Jesus had already provided miracles of healing so it wouldn’t be a stretch to have him produce food. You’d think that Jesus’ closest followers would have gathered around him and obtained an insider’s view of precisely how he accomplished the food miracle. Unfortunately, we don’t have those vital details. Can you imagine standing there seeing parts of a fish and morsels of bread pop-out of thin air?
A third item of interest might have had monumental implications if it had been successful. The crowd was convinced that Jesus was capable of achieving anything. This is why the mob tried to forcibly make Jesus king. This is a huge development and I can’t say that I blame a mistreated population for trying this. Just think how neat it would have been to have a leader who, unlike the cruel and corrupt despots ruling Israel, you could have a loving Jesus providing free food and healings. What a social safety net that might have been! Pause for a moment and consider the alternative history if Jesus had been ruling instead of the Romans and their Herodian stooges. Ah, well, no utopia this time. As you may have guessed, Jesus would have none of this king-making. Alas, he managed to escape by retreating to the mountain. To further settle the matter, the disciples sailed toward the other side of the Sea of Galilee and Jesus followed soon after.
Okay pastor Larry, what’s relevant for us from this passage? For one, we know that miracles sometimes draw people, those whom may end up learning more about spiritual health. Perhaps when we go out and partner with God to make new Christians (through outreach), we’ll meet people who, like us, may wish to explore divine activities. There’s nothing wrong with gaining some momentum by learning the wonders of God’s work. After all, one of the things that can draw us in to learn about God are the miracles (the greatest of which is our empowerment via God’s love and truth). A problem arises when we focus too much on theatrics at the expense of the eternal miracle of receiving and sharing God’s love and truth.
A second take-away is that God can feed us, literally and figuratively. The Bible reminds us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Do you have an appetite for something other than your next burger? Jesus didn’t want to become the baker-elect for folks who just wanted to fill their bellies. More than just bread and fish, Jesus sought to provide food for the soul and living water for the spirit. Sure, people might have become fattened by easy meals but that would accomplish little compared with long-term spiritual health.
Similar to the problem with Jesus staying on earth as a semi-permanent miracle-worker is the mistaken notion of Jesus as a politician. It is much better that Jesus rule in the kingdom of heaven, which is preferred over any throne on earth. Anyway, follow Jesus and he will satisfy your deepest yearnings; there’s no better source of satisfaction.