(…meditation on John 6, continued) Yet, Jesus is critical of this desire. He rebukes the people, and although his criticism is gentle enough, he does make it clear that he has come for more important things than to hand out free lunches. In verse 26 Jesus said to the crowd, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” And then when they asked him what it is they should be looking for, he offers them the bread of life, that is, eternal life, which can be had by believing in Him.
Jesus knew what it was to be hungry– even very hungry. Remember the 40 days in the wilderness that he was without food and was then tempted by the devil? The devil’s very first temptation was to offer a way to get free food. Jesus refused to give in to the temptation, and he stayed hungry. Jesus knew what it was to feel that most basic need. And yet, he knew there was something even more important. When he was hungry, Jesus said to the tempter, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” One can have plenty to eat here, and still be unhappy. On the average, well fed Americans are less happy than the poor, but cheerful and hopeful Haitians. And, one can have plenty to eat for their whole life, and even be happy for all of life; but this life still comes to an end for the rich as well as for the poor. But even then, that ‘bread of life’ that Jesus was here to offer would still be there and still able to give and sustain even more life, eternal life in heaven.
So Jesus said to the crowd, “Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which I will give you.” Jesus does not mean, of course, that we need not work at all for the food that spoils– our daily work is most of all for the purpose of providing us with that ‘daily bread’ that Jesus himself invited us to pray for in the Lord’s prayer. What Jesus means is to not make the food that spoils or anything that perishes our most important concern. That daily bread, as important as it is, will satisfy us only for a day. But the bread of life will be with us for all eternity.
Kay James is an African-American woman who worked in the administration of the first President Bush (see EmailMeditation #458, A Lesson from Mama). She grew up in the ghetto, raised in poverty with her five brothers. Their father had abandoned the family, and the mother worked two, and sometimes three jobs to support them all. They never starved, but they had many meager meals of thin soup and a few crackers. One day, when the mother came home from work, one of the boys had good news. They would be having fried chicken that night, he said, holding up the chicken he had provided. But mama was suspicious. “Where did that chicken come from?,” she asked. After some hemming and hawing, the boy admitted it was stolen from the school kitchen. He and the neighbor boys had gotten away with several. Mama angrily grabbed the chicken by the legs, and the boy took off running because he knew what would be coming next. She hit him on the back with the chicken a couple times before he got away, and then she threw the chicken out the back door for the rats to fight over. Mama said, “We’ll starve before we eat stolen food in this house.” The kids were deeply disappointed, especially since they could smell the fried chicken from the neighbors houses, houses in which other mothers did accept and prepare the stolen food.
Looking back, Kay said that it was things like that that kept that family alive. Other boys in the neighborhood got used to taking the easy way out and were soon dealing drugs. Several of them were dead before they were twenty years old from drug overdoses or shootings. But Kay and her brothers learned there was something more important than food, and that was faith in Jesus and the desire to obey him in all things. That deeper, eternal hope gave them the strength to survive even hunger.
You may be fortunate have enough to eat, and not have to face the kinds of temptations that faced Kay James and her family. But as you well know, there are all sorts of other temporary things that can tempt us to forget that which is of eternal value. Jesus here encourages us to remember him and to look to him in all things and at all times, or as Paul said, “Look not to the things that are seen, for they are temporary, but to the things that are unseen, for they are eternal.”
John 6:25-40 (portions) — When they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…”
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?…”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you… it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Matthew 4:4 (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) — Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
We thank Thee for our daily bread,
Let also, Lord, our souls be fed.
O Bread of life, from day to day,
Sustain us on our homeward way. Amen.