Read John 6:22-59
Sometimes what we expect and what we get are completely different… but what we get can be so much better.
Alexander Fleming didn’t clean up his workstation before going on vacation one day in 1928. When he came back, he noticed that there was a strange fungus on some of his cultures. Even stranger was that bacteria didn’t seem to thrive near those cultures. Penicillin became the first and is still one of the most widely used antibiotics.
Again, sometimes what we expect and what we get are completely different… but what we get can be so much better.
This text from John is much the same. The people who followed Jesus to the other side of the lake were looking for one thing, but they found something completely different than what they had expected. The crowd followed him because he had fed them… 5000 of them (not even counting the women and the children.) This miracle of Jesus as called a sign by John. Like a road sign, and like all the signs in the gospel of John, it pointed straight toward Jesus.
So when they woke up and saw the boat was gone, they followed Jesus to to the other side of the lake. But when Jesus offered them himself — the bread of life — instead of what they expected, their hunger distracted them from seeing Jesus for who he really is. They only saw him for who they wanted him to be. If we backtrack to verse 15 for just a second, the whole reason Jesus left in the first place was, “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king…” They wanted someone who would drive the Romans away and set up the perfect worldly government that they believed was promised by scripture. But Jesus is so much more than this so he had to confront the crowd where they stood and let them know he had no intention of being either their baker or their king… at least not in the way they expected him to be king.
Well, if they couldn’t have a king, at the very least, it’s clear they wanted more of that bread. They even demanded it, asking for a sign like the one their ancestors had received in the desert — they wanted endless bread, bread every day, manna from heaven. The word for “manna” in Hebrew literally means, “What is it?” But the people in John 6 essentially ask Jesus, “Where is it?” Asking for the sign was pretty much their way of trying to call Jesus to task. It was like their way of saying, “God promised, and if you are who we think you are, YOU WILL DELIVER… or else.” But Jesus, who is the Living Bread standing in their midst, knew the crowd would not be satisfied with his answer. He knew this was not going to end well. Maybe they’d forgotten that the manna, given to the people while they wandered 40 years in the desert, stopped once they crossed the Jordan into their inheritance. Part of that inheritance was the freedom to work, the joy of labor and the satisfaction of accomplishment. But those who had originally come to hear Jesus speak forgot his words after being distracted by the food. They were content to wander in the desert of sin instead of entering into the Promised Land of grace.
But the people lost sight of everything but the free food! Their search had led them to the Bread of Life, but they were apparently only interested in another free meal. We can understand this to a degree, but before we point fingers its important to recognize that not all of us have experienced the harsh reality of hunger. The world where most of live tends to be one where we actually have too much to eat. But for much of the world’s population and even for many people who live right around us, there is no certainty about where their next meal will come from. This was the reality for many of the people who followed Jesus across the lake that day. They were hungry, and Jesus fed them… and they wanted more. Bread meant nutrition and comfort and stability.
There’s something special about bread.
So what can we learn from this? Are we more interested in what we can get from God, instead of remaining intent on adoring God and serving humanity in God’s name? Do we get distracted by our own agenda and in the process forget the reality of who Jesus really is and what Jesus does? Does discipleship get lost because we are so intent on looking at Jesus for a handout that we no longer get what he’s saying?
The biggest lesson is that it doesn’t work for us to put Jesus into a me shaped box that conforms him to our image and expectations — one where we can pull him out when we feel like it so he can do what we want, perform on command — and then put him back in the box before his demands, his expectations, his Gospel, get in our way. We say we want to be saved — but do we want to be changed? Are we ready to be transformed?
The Bread of Heaven, Jesus, is still standing before us. But we don’t control the Living Bread. By pointing out that their ancestors ate manna in the desert, perhaps the people that day thought they could somehow turn the blessings of God on and off as they pleased. True discipleship, however, begins with recognizing who’s in charge. Jesus is all we think he is — but he’s a whole lot more — and things will work a whole lot better when we start thinking about ourselves a whole lot less. What is it? What could it be? Maybe following Jesus won’t lead us to what we expect, but maybe following Jesus will lead us to something even better.