Recently I read John 6, which is a really long chapter- 71 verses. There are many, many things to think about. The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand. Then the disciples cross the rough sea and Jesus walks out on the water to them and they reach the other side.
Then something interesting happened. The crowds (the people Jesus fed the day before) were confused. They saw the disciples leave in a boat, but not Jesus. The crowd, realizing that both Jesus and the disciples are gone, travel to the “other side” to look for Jesus. They find Jesus and ask,
“Rabbi, when did you come here?” (v25) Jesus replies “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them,”This is the work of God, that you believe in him, whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness: as it is written,’He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
John 6:25-31 NRSV
The chapter goes on for 40 more verses. But I found this part interesting and perhaps a little too personal. The crowds are looking for Jesus because he fed them the day before. We can’t fault people for being hungry and eating the food offered to them. The problem was that they, and I, sometimes think food is just food. We eat food every day, usually several times a day. We forget to see the sign that the food is.
I’m looking for “heavenly”, head turning, traffic stopping miracles. That’s not what I get. Jesus gives me signs and wonders. For example the wonder of food.
We see the bread, we see the wine (John 2:1-11). We are glad to eat and drink. We may even be thankful. But we miss the sign.
John’s gospel gives us signs, rather than miracles. I think that is to help us keep a clearer picture of what is going on. The sign points us to who Jesus is. The sign tells us important things about Jesus, about what matters to him.
The abundance of wine, the abundance of food. These are not things we should take for granted. But I know I do and when I do I fail to see the sign.
Too often I follow Jesus for what he can do, rather than for who he is. From the trivial- praying for a parking spot, to the serious- prayers for peace or healing. It is so easy to be like the crowd and follow Jesus for what he does. It is easy to be distracted by what he does and forget who he is- the bread of heaven.
The crowd goes on to make a second mistake. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Forgetting it is all gift.
Then they, and we, demand divine party tricks, something spectacular to prove that God is God. Forgetting that it is all gift. The gift of life in the kingdom. Life now in Christ. Gift, right before our eyes.
The crowd asked, “What sign are you going to give us…?” We might ask “What have you done for me lately, Jesus?” We follow as those ancient crowds did- hungry, looking for someone to feed us. Someone to heal us. And Jesus, patiently and with steadfast love feeds us and heals us. Hoping, I suppose, that we can someday follow for better reasons. Simply because Jesus is worth following because of who he is, not what he does.