The Gospels are full of parables, beloved “earthly stories with a Heavenly meaning”, told by Jesus to those around Him in attempts to teach them something that they rarely understood. These parables are not just cute stories to repeat in a Sunday school class, but stories that hold a deep and powerful lesson at their core. John 6 holds one of these parables for us in the form of a confusing exchange between Jesus and His disciples about bread. A simple question about how Jesus crossed a lake is met with a complicated answer, and suddenly we are talking about manna and Heaven and Moses (which has nothing to do with how Jesus got there!). If I were one of the disciples in this story, I think that I would be greatly confused about what Jesus was trying to do here – but, the confusion comes only partly from what Jesus’ response is. The rest of the confusion comes from the question itself – “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Now, let’s begin by saying that there is nothing wrong with this question. It’s simple curiosity on the part of the disciples, because Jesus did not travel with them and then suddenly appears in the same place that they are in. I think that most of us would have wondered! But, Jesus (being fully divine and fully human), sees past their question and into a much deeper issue. Jesus knew that they were asking about his arrival because of the miracles and other signs that they had seen in their time with Him; they wanted to be the first ones to know the new story, the newest and best thing that Jesus had done. They were used to having their fill of miracles, so to speak, and that is what they had gotten used to in their roles. However, Jesus tells them that these works are the “food that spoils”, and even though they have had their fill of it, they need to change their perspective and look for the food that endures, the Bread of Life that will sustain them – and all that was needed for this Bread was to believe in Christ, the man that they were speaking with!
I think that we, just like the disciples, try to find our fill with bread that will not sustain us. We live for the “big experiences” in our faith – the mission trips, the conversion experiences, the prayers with first time believers and the miracles that we see in our daily lives. While all of these things are beautiful and wonderful, they are not enough to sustain us. These are our loaves that we fill up on, just like the disciples did in their time with Jesus. Our knowledge of the Bible is not enough to sustain us either – just as the disciples tried to bring manna into their conversation with Jesus, because they knew the story and their heritage well, we try to sustain ourselves on our Biblical knowledge and the verses we have memorized over the years.
We look for sustenance in all of the wrong places, all the while ignoring the bread that is right in front of us. Just as Jesus finally tells the disciples in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” We focus on things that are fundamentally good, but take the place of what the true focus of our faith should be. We focus on our questions and our knowledge, just as generations before us have done, feel “full” because of what we see and what we know. However, feeling full and being full are very different things, and the difference comes in the type of bread we decide to fill ourselves with.
Are we filling ourselves with bread that will not last, with once in a while experiences and imperfect knowledge? Or, are we taking our fill of the true Bread of Life, the kind that will last forever and lead us to true and full life in Christ? What kind of bread will you choose today?