So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?”
Jesus answered them, "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.' "
Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I don’t like talking about Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus; and I feel called to a vocation which has “proclaiming God’s Word” as its primary responsibility. I just find it awkward to talk about him…especially with people outside of our Cross of Grace family.
Generally one of two things will happen when I end up talking about Jesus with someone:
Typically what happens is that the word “Jesus” (or “church”, or “pastor”) brings the conversation to a screeching halt and I recognize the other person cannot wait to find someone else to talk to.
However, when I find myself talking to someone who also loves Jesus, the conversation often derails for a different reason. About five minutes in we realize we are talking about two very different Jesuses; or rather about two different interpretations of Jesus. Suddenly the other person tries to tell me I’m wrong, or starts looking for someone else to talk to.
The problem with the Jesus that I believe in and love is that he’s rather odd-sounding.
I’ll demonstrate by telling you what I believe is true about Jesus:
Jesus is one of the three formations of the true and eternal divine force that created, designed, and sustains the universe but condensed into a real-life, flesh-and-blood human being who was born from a virgin and lived two-thousand years ago as a brown-skinned middle-eastern Jewish man.
He was trained as a rabbi and led a righteous life that was a beautiful expression of the Hebrew prophets’ call to bring good news to those who are marginalized by the oppressive political and religious structures of the day. He performed inexplicable miracles, hung out with society’s worst of the worst, and invited people into a new way of seeing the world by telling stories that few people understood.
He never said he was God, but others started saying it. But there were others, however, thought he was completely offensive and a disgrace. This put him at the cross-hairs of the powers and principalities. Realizing something bad was going to happen to him soon, he told his disciples that he would be executed and raised back to life. He promised to be with them every time they shared a meal, even claiming that the bread they would eat would be his body and the wine they would drink would be his blood. Sure enough he was arrested, convicted, and executed. And sure enough, three days after his death he emerged from the tomb full of life. He stuck around long enough to scare his disciples, eat some grilled fish, and then ascend into heaven.
Imagine you didn’t know anything about Jesus until you heard that. What do you think about that answer?
You now see why I try to avoid talking about Jesus. Any answer I give sounds weird and, frankly, unreal. The reality of Jesus, as it turns out, is hard to grasp and even harder to put into words. Fortunately, our task is not to understand Jesus; our task isn’t even to talk about Jesus; rather, our duty and delight is to experience Jesus and invite others to experience him as well.
Recall the story from today’s gospel lesson. The crowds are incredibly impressed by Jesus, even though they fail to understand what he’s doing and saying. The crowd wants bread for their bellies; Jesus offers them bread from heaven. The crowd wants to know how to act; Jesus tells them what to believe. They are confused. Intellectually, they just can’t quite gasp who Jesus is and what he’s saying. But nevertheless, they are moved through their encounter with Jesus. Being in the presence of Jesus moves them to pray in spite of their confusion, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
I am under the impression that most of us have little interest in telling someone about Jesus. It could be that you see such a conversation as a violation of someone’s privacy. Or perhaps you are not confident that you know enough about Jesus to be an effective ambassador. However, what we should all desire is to help people encounter Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life, and to see them moved to prayer.
Jesus says he is the bread of life. Even though we don’t quite understand what he’s talking about, this much is clear: we could starve to death without Jesus.
Jesus says he is the bread of life; which, I guess means Jesus is “soul food.”
Soul food reminds me of a special place in downtown Phoenix, Arizona called Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café. I went there for the first time about 20 years ago along with my uncle and grandfather when we were visiting my grandparents, who lived in Arizona. My grandfather was a wonderful man, but let’s just say that he was “old fashioned” (to put it politely) regarding issues of race. Had he known that Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café was a soul food restaurant and that we would be the only white people in there, I doubt he would have walked in. But, my uncle, in his ornery way, convinced him to check it out by omitting certain details.
So, there we were in a small cinderblock building. The menu was scribbled on the wall and it included things I could never imagine eating. I specifically remember ox tail and pigs feet being on the menu. I stuck with the safe standards: fried chicken, greens swimming in bacon fat, mashed potatoes, and my first piece of sweet potato pie. It was one of the best meals I had eaten. My grandfather was equally impressed. So much so, that the next week he took his wife to Mrs. White’s. And a few weeks later, they started taking their friends from church to Mrs. White’s.
Had either my grandfather or I demanded to be told about Mrs. White’s ahead of time, neither of us would have gone – I would have wanted pizza, and my grandfather would have wanted to go where there were fewer black people. And yet, our experience of soul food was one that had a profound effect on each of us.
We, as Christ’s body, as called to provide “soul food” for the world. Not the fried chicken, sweet potato, collard greens kind of soul food (although that’s the stuff that probably can heal the world); but the other, more important soul food – the one that invites people to not simply learn about Jesus, but to experience what it is like to be loved by the son of God – the one who gave up everything so that we would be loved and truly free.
Just as there are people who insist they don’t like soul food, even though they’ve never tried it; there are people who insist they don’t like church, even though they’ve never tried it. Do we chastise these brothers and sisters? Do we ostracize them? Ignore them? Fight them? Fear them? Do we attempt to educate them?
We don’t need to talk about Jesus. Instead, let’s start by asking them if they’re hungry. Because we have soul food to feed them. We offer the bread and wine – Christ’s tangible and eternal forgiveness, peace and love. If you’ve never tried that, you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you’ve had it, you know that you need to share it with others.