Scriptures: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35.
Our Gospel today, from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, continues the great discourse by Jesus known as the “Bread of Life” discourse, and again, we see Jesus surrounded by a crowd who are clamouring for him to help them. Having been so recently fed from three barley loaves and two fish, and fed to their fill, the crowd are still not satisfied – they want more. In their claim for more, their memories are taken back to the time of the Exodus, which is where our first reading comes in.
In our reading from the Book of Exodus, the People of Israel are grumbling because they’re hungry, stuck in the middle of the wilderness, and starting to regret having left Egypt. They wanted to be liberated from slavery, but this wandering through the wilderness wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. In Egypt they might have been slaves, but at least they got food to eat. They’re suffering from a very bad case of “the grass is greener on the other side”
God, hearing the complaints, sends them quails and manna in order that they might not starve, but also so that they might know that the Lord will care for them – and so that they might know that this is all part of the God’s plan of salvation for the People of Israel. This sign, God giving them “bread from heaven”, was also a sign to the People of Israel that Moses had, in fact, been sent by God as part of that plan of salvation, and that Moses spoke with authenticity, spoke the truth, and was to be heeded, if the People of Israel wanted to get to the Promised Land.
Jumping forward to the time of Jesus, we find that not much has changed. The crowd are still going hungry, and even though they been recently fed by Jesus, they still want more. They track Jesus down after his escape from them, and demand more. They have failed to see that what Jesus did for them in feeding them wasn’t just about meeting their physical needs, but was also a sign that he, too, had been sent from God – in fact that he was God! – and taught with authenticity, spoke the truth, and was to be listened to by those who heard him.
Hearing this twist, the crowd demand a sign. “Give us a sign, that we might judge it, and if we’re happy then we might go along with it”. They might have wanted God, but they wanted God on their own terms! They wanted Jesus all neatly packaged in a box, that could be placed on the shelf out of sight and out of mind – until God is needed anyway. And to bolster their argument they ‘remind’ Jesus about what Moses had provided to their ancestors…until, that is, Jesus brings out the big gun.
Moses had nothing to do with the feeding of your ancestors, Jesus tells the crowd. That was all down to God, and God alone! This was God’s work aimed at reminding God’s People that there were worse things than physical hunger…a spiritual hunger, and an alienation from relationship with God, is a more pressing concern, and one which God, and God alone, can fill.
It’s what we do here each and every Sunday when we gather in this place. We gather here, we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, not for the sake of our physical needs but so that we might always be reminded of who it was that gave us this great gift – Jesus Christ, God in human form, the Authentic One, the one we are called to listen to and follow. Gathering here each week we are nourished by the Bread of Life – Jesus – in order that we can become what have received – and be the Bread of Life for the world. That is what we are called to as Christians, and we have been gifted with the ultimate sign that both reminds us and strengthens us for that task.