Monday, 8 February 2016

Perishable Goods

"You've sought me not because you saw something remarkable, but because your stomachs were filled with bread".

Jesus (John 6:26).

It's the turning-point in what was to come.
From here on in, rather than days which struck people because of the miraculous, there would be a new emphasis - a turning to Jerusalem, and the conflict with death that awaited there.

The Gospel of John, however, tells this moment differently, taking in another aspect of the story, than the other Gospels.

The people had been truly fed by the 'miracle worker' (verse 2) on the cusp of passover (verse 4) - the time when the people recalled the feeding of their forefathers by Moses in the wilderness - and had deemed that such a man was indeed worthy of their devotion and elevation (verse 15), but Jesus had walked across the lake to distance Himself from such ends. The throng, however, knew when they were on to a good thing, and they raced after Him, wanting more of the free lunches their prescribed 'king' could provide.

It's here that things get really interesting (verse 28 onwards).
Jesus said that they didn't understand what really mattered - that they really needed to believe in Him if they were to gain something more than just a meal. The response of the crowd, of course, was 'well, you give us another sign, and then we may consider you worth following'. Their only real interest was in the immediate, not what Jesus was really all about.

When you read through the concluding sections of most of the Epistles of the New Testament, you see how this is spelt-out, over and over again, and if we're honest, the reason it's there is because, like the hungry crowd awaiting breakfast, we're not really taking on board what it means or seeking to understand what's really going on. If we can have our plates filled for another day, oh, and our desires met in full along with that, then everything will be pretty peachy and, well, we can worry about anything else, maybe, after that. I must admit that my own thoughts and related deeds, when soberly examined, can often be just that shallow.

Jesus doesn't let us off the hook.
He refers them to the feeding by Moses in the desert, but corrects their understanding - it isn't Moses that gives bread that satisfies, but God, and when people eat of that bread, they will not only be satisfied, but they will gain a life that never ceases (and, in truth, never sits easy with being satisfied for less).

The crowd isn't there for a lecture on something that is so clearly removed from their own  wants and needs, so they start to complain (verse 41 - so often our own de-fault setting!) - who does this man think He is? I'm the one, Jesus replies, who gives a 'bread' that will sustain you forever, because the true life that will sustain creation is my flesh (verse 51).

It's not the answer they (or we) were looking for. Sure, give us what we need and, hey, you can stick around (handy for the next meal) and be a 'king', of sorts, but what is all this ghastly talk about us needing to eat you!

They'd been so busy thinking about daily bread, of course, that they'd forgotten what passover itself really entailed - the eating of the Lamb and the shedding of its blood (Exodus 22).

The spotlight then turns away from the masses (probably because they realized that another free meal wasn't going to be forthcoming) to the disciples who were with Him  (verse 60), who were clearly struggling in the same way that the crowd had done. Jesus doesn't dilute what's required one jot, but just says, 'do you wish to go as well?' Peter states something, which, thankfully, keeps me (and, I suspect, so may of us) in the pull of the Gospel - where could we go? Only you have come from God, and you feed us with the words of life (Verse 68).

When we sit in church on Sunday's, it's hopefully because we expect to hear God speak to us through His living word. When we take of the bread and the wine, it is because as Matthew, Mark and Luke* tells us (and as John is unpacking here) - that we are eating and drinking of Christ, because without that life to feed us and sustain us, we're merely scraping around in the dirt for the next scrap, whoever and whatever we are - it's not going to last.

If I'm honest, then I know that often, I'm just one of the crowd, or, at best, a disciple scratching his head and saying, boy, is this hard to get - principally because I have a propensity to go back to what I want or think I need, but Jesus wants to raise our eyes to eternity.

C S Lewis often nails the issue, and he notes: 
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased".
(The Weight of Glory).

Too easily pleased so often sums it up. May God grant us the hunger for that stronger meat and undiluted wine, that our appetites may increase for richer things.

* The Gospels of Matthew (26:27,28) and Mark (14:22-24) both simply say that the bread & wine are the body & blood of Christ, mentioning nothing about 'remembrance' Luke's gospel (22:17-20) speaks of 'remembrance', but some ancient manuscripts do not contain that phrase here (only in Paul's instruction to the Corinthians), and it should be noted that what is meant in the Greek with regards to the word used - anamnesis - is not simply a bringing to remembrance, like one would on a memorial day, but a quickening of our faculties, especially our affections, to engage with the person Himself.

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