10th Sunday After Pentecost B
Exo 16:2-4,9-15; Eph 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
How many here know someone directly affected by the gun tragedy in Aurora? One of the fires? A difficult medical diagnosis? Breakup of a marriage or partnership? An untimely death? Unfairness related to work? That’s pretty much all of us.
And how often in these situations have we said, “How could God let this happen? This person didn’t deserve this.”
Has anyone ever had a good, satisfactory answer to that question? . . . Too bad, I was hoping someone who knew the answer to that could preach today.
I don’t have a good answer either, and certainly not a satisfactory one. But perhaps this text in John 6 can open some insights for us nonetheless. It’s a series of questions and answers between the crowd and Jesus. Though the crowds questions aren’t brought on necessary by a tragedy, they do have something in common with our questions. They are asking about very legitimate issues and not getting satisfactory answers. Take a look at their questions:
- Since they didn’t see Jesus walking on the water which happened immediately prior to this text, they ask how he got to Capernaum. It’s a legitimate question. But instead of simply telling the how he did it, he accuses the crowds of only wanting more food for their stomachs instead of for eternal life. Right before walking on the water he fed 5000 people with a few loaves and fish.
- They ask how they can do God’s work. Isn’t that a good question? Jesus answers that God is working on them—so they can trust in Jesus.
- They ask for a sign to prove it. God gave manna through Moses in the desert; give us a sign like that (now that’s not their best question—he just fed 5000 people). Jesus answers that God gives the true bread of life to them.
- They request—demand—this bread. Jesus tells them they’re looking at it. I’m already here, he says.
Can you share their frustration? Legitimate questions with indirect answers. But we have more in common with this crowd than their frustration over less-than-satisfactory answers to questions. The basic nature of their questions—and ours—is the expectation that Jesus owes us a satisfactory explanation. They—and we—believe Jesus owes us answers that make sense to us and that somehow must have our approval. As if it was up to God to adjust to our agenda. If we don’t understand, God owes us an answer.
- How’d you get here Jesus? After we hoofed it all the way to Capernaum, you owe us an answer.
- How do we do God’s work? That’s a question you ought to be answering, Jesus.
- Give us a sign—because we think we deserve one. And feeding 5000 people doesn’t count.
- Give us this bread of life—because, well, because we want it.
- Fix the difficulties in my relationship, cure this sickness, save my home, find me a job—because at some level I believe I deserve it.
If we look at Jesus’ answers to the crowd, maybe we’ll get an idea of his answer to us too. Here’s what he tells them.
- There’s an imperishable food that’s actually more important for you.
- God’s work is providing you with that food.
- God is giving that food for you whether you see it or not.
- In Christ, that food in here, now, for you.
The important thing isn’t receiving answers that we consider satisfactory, but receiving God’s gift of life, which is made real in Christ.
Keep asking the questions. Keep seeking answers. But if the answers don’t always come clearly and satisfactorily, make sure to hear the answer God does give: God is giving us life, here and now. God’s work is to provide it for us; and it’s here. It is bigger than our questions. It is more present than elusive answers. It is touching us in ways we don’t necessarily see, understand, or even believe. But God’s gift of life is here. That’s the whole point of Jesus, after all; God comes to us in the very midst of our questions and is giving us life. And in Christ we see how God is doing it.
So we look to Jesus; not for sensible answers that we find satisfactory. But we look to Jesus in order to recognize God’s presence, God’s work, God’s gifts, God’s life.
The bread of life—a gift from God—is here. Come, let us eat and live a new life.