Today the church gives us the second set of readings from a five week series as we move deeper into the Bread of Life discourse from John’s Gospel. Recall last week how the people pursued Jesus because of the signs they saw him perform on the sick. In today’s gospel, they are still pursuing Jesus but this time Jesus suggests it is for a different reason. He states, “I assure you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled”. And yet by the end of today’s Gospel they are begging him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” The way Jesus entices us and pulls us in is unique to all of us. The stories of individuals sharing how God has called them are always intriguing, unique and fascinating. Most people can name different stages of how Jesus has enticed them in order to lead them to something that is deeper and more substantial. What good is a feel-good religion which doesn’t really transform us?
A second item worth reflecting on is how God meets us in our human need, and responds to us out of compassion. The impetus of this feeding story is Jesus seeing the crowds and knowing the hunger of the people. Out of this awareness the Divine responds with a deep abundant compassion, meeting the needs of the people. We see the same dynamic from the Exodus story written hundreds of years earlier. Out of compassion to the grumbling of the Israelites, the Holy One responds with an abundance of food, feeding the people.
Third, when I put both of the above two truths together I recognize that God does not fulfill us with what we were searching for, because our search and the conditions around our search are too limited. Rather, God creates something new beyond my limited conditions. I frequently find in spiritual direction that a person’s scope can be so narrowly defined that there isn’t much space for the Divine Spirit to move. How can a person with a rigid limited scope ever be surprised by God? Yet this is precisely what happens in this event or “sign” as John calls it. When the people were expecting a healing sign (6:2) they were astounded with a feeding sign. It caught them by surprise and yet their eyes were truly opened because they saw it as they reflected on the experience. The God who surprises us is consistent with numerous New Testament themes. After all, isn’t that the Christmas story?
How about the contrast with scarcity and abundance? Jack Shea has a wonderful distinction between the world of the flesh which is based on scarcity versus the world of the spirit which is over abundance. Thus the feeding of the multitudes has an over abundance of food.
A fifth very important theme is the human tendency to make Jesus be something he is not. Last weekend’s Gospel ended with Jesus having to move away from the people because he knew they would carry him off and make him king. Again in confessions and spiritual direction I continually see people disappointed in God because God didn’t fulfill what they had hoped for. Yet most all the time it is the human person who wants God to be something God is not.
This Bread of Life discourse has some tremendously beautiful gems of truth. As we take plenty of time pondering them over the next several weeks, may we grow in an appreciation of who we are in the eyes of God.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.