Acts 7:51 – 8:1a
When Jesus told the crowd, "I am the Bread of Life," he was seeking to draw them closer to himself and the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, the statement had the opposite outcome; many people walked away. The text in John 6 gives us glues as to the kind of people that left Jesus.
The first cluster of people are the Takers. They wanted free handouts, a gravy train. Jesus resisted their desire that he be a miracle worker, providing whatever they needed, whenever they needed. Jesus wanted to cultivate a sincere relationship, one that cannot be bought with goodies. Takers want the gift more than the giver. "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do [for us]?" These people look to God for what they can get. They are quick to turn their backs on God if God fails to deliver what they want.
The second group are the Conformists. They don’t want a free lunch, but they do want a list of rules. They want life and religion to be very controlled. Again, they don’t want a relationship with Jesus; they want to know clearly what behavior is right and what deed is wrong. They know the laws more than they know God. The laws give them security, a sense of pride in following the commandments exactly, and help them determine who is good and who is evil. They are very self-righteous, pointing to themselves as the good people and others as outside the law.
The final group are the Enthusiasts. Jesus had recently fed over 5,000 people with only 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. The day after that, many in the crowd wanted another sign, another miracle. They were feeling great about this Jesus who fed the thousands. So excited were they that the people climbed into boats, rowed across the lake and found Jesus. Jesus wanted to direct their excitement and enthusiasm to a relationship with him, to exchange excitement with faith. But they would have nothing to do with that and turned their backs. Today we know people who go from church to church looking for what they want: a preacher who excites them, a worship service that is more of a spiritual entertainment than a challenge to faith. They are on the sidelines waiting for the next new experience. They want Jesus to provide one mountain top experience after another. If there is a valley of darkness, they turn away. Enthusiasm is not bad; it can be helpful in drawing us into a relationship with Jesus. But if we are only chasing after the latest fad in church life, we won’t find Jesus in the ordinary aspects of life, and our faith will remain on a superficial level. It is Jesus himself, not an event itself or a building or a preacher, who truly nourishes our faith.
These people wanted to do business with Jesus. They wanted a huge bakery to provide for their physical needs, strict rules to rationalize their judgments and excitement to stimulate their feelings. Jesus humbly wanted to have a personal relationship with them, to draw them closer to the Kingdom of God, and to nourish them more deeply as the Bread of Life. During this Easter Season we are reminded that Jesus gives us not only daily life but also eternal life.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.