“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.” (John 6:27)
There’s a great line in my favorite Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life: The angel Clarence tells the despondent and financially troubled George Bailey, “We don’t use money in heaven.” George quickly replies, “Well, it comes in pretty handy down here, bub!”
My esteemed colleague Pastor Joey Klinger reminded me and the rest of our clergy Bible study group that verse 27 (above) in the Gospel reading for Pentecost 10, Year B (John 6:24-35) wouldn’t make someone feel all warm and cozy when the bread that perishes is in short supply. There’s something rather callous in telling hungry people they should just have a little faith. That’s why it’s so important to put this verse in the context of the larger Bible narrative. Jesus is admonishing a crowd that isn’t hungry. In fact, not only has this bunch just been fed a pretty hearty lunch of bread and fish, but they actually have a ton of leftovers.
This second episode in the five-week “bread of life” marathon that comes in the cycle of readings for Year B is actually kind of funny. This well-fed multitude seizes on Jesus like he’s a slot machine paying off. When Jesus tries to get away, they run after him. Can you just picture this gang running around the lip of a huge lake trying to beat a boat rowing to the opposite shore? I see these guys showing up at the beach all sweaty and panting and then nonchalantly saying, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” It’s as if they’re trying to make him believe all five thousand of them always take a mile-long run around the Sea of Galilee every day and just happened to run into Jesus.
Of course, Jesus isn’t buying any of this, and he calls them on their stuff right away. He basically tells them, “You guys aren’t looking for God or righteousness or anything like that. You’re looking for more free food.” The Son of Man doesn’t have time for their crap. Their material needs have been met—actually more than met—by a good and giving God. It’s time for them to receive the inner peace, the compassion, the forgiveness, and the love God wants to give them. It’s time for them to find the courage which comes from faith in eternal life. It’s time for them to chill out, be grateful, and take a longer picture of things.
But they don’t get it. Like so many of the verbal exchanges in John’s Gospel, this dialogue reminds me of scenes from Schitt’s Creek, the whacky TV comedy where just about every conversation is awkward or at cross purposes. The crowd ignores the eternal life stuff and the remark about God setting his seal on the guy in front of them and asks, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” That is to say, “Tell us what we need to do so we can get more stuff.” Now, this isn’t religion. This is superstition. Like we all tend to do at times, they’re taking the focus off of God and putting it on themselves. It’s a quid pro quo kind of thing. If we do X, God will give us Y. And that’s just not how it works.
The road between us and God is a one-way street. It comes only from God to us, and never the other way around. Jesus tells the crowd that they got it wrong when they say Moses provided their ancestors with manna in the wilderness. Moses didn’t provide a thing. God provided. And all God is asking is that we believe.
Believe what? Believe that God is present and active. Believe God in Jesus the Son of Man is the manifestation of God’s love for humanity It’s God’s willingness to walk with us and suffer with us and teach us how much we each are valued. Believe that this moment is just a tiny, sub-atomic particle of all eternity.
I’ll grant that it might be hard to focus on God in a chaotic moment like this. We’re not just worried about material things like our daily bread, but we’re seeing existential change, too. Everybody seems to be fearing change and loss and getting more than a little crazy. “Pandemic Anxiety” is a thing now. Even our Olympic athletes are starting like crack under the strain.
This is the time to take a breath, let go, and let God be God. We are already the heirs of eternal life, and that knowledge calls us to look at things with more perspective. Things always change, troubles always come, but so do blessings. We don’t have faith because our spiritual hunger is satisfied. Such hunger is satisfied because we have faith.
Keep the faith, my friend.