Ninth Sunday after Trinity
John 6:24-35 Exodus 16:2-4; 9-15
‘What is it?’ The Israelites asked, that morning when they found the ground covered with a layer of some flaky stuff, as they were going through the wilderness after the Exodus. They had left their lives of slavery in Egypt but after a while they began to grumble about their provisions. And so, God spoke to Moses and Aaron to tell the people that they would get quails in the evening and bread in the morning, raining from heaven for them. The name of the bread, manna, is explained by an expression that means ‘What is it?’. They would eat it for the rest of their time of wandering in the desert, learning to rely on God alone for their basic needs.
With the feeding of the five thousand that Jesus had done prior to his conversation with the crowd in today’s reading from John’s gospel, Jesus had given a sign that spoke about who he was. Afterwards, he had even walked on water, and now the crowds have found him again and are asking for more. It would have been quite understandable, I think, if Jesus had responded with something like: ‘What cheek! I’ve just done some things that only God can do, so …. off!’ and had refused to engage with them anymore. Instead, Jesus reproaches them gently, teaching them through engaging with their questions and simply pointing them in the right direction, even if they still tend to misunderstand the depth of his meaning. When he fed the five thousand, he had basically reproduced the miracle of the manna, mirroring God’s authority. It was something that the Messiah, the expected Saviour, was supposed to do. Still, though, it was too hard for the people to grasp, looking as they did, for their immediate physical satisfaction, rather than their spiritual fulfilment.
What is it, we could ask, that makes it so difficult for people to appreciate and accept who Jesus is? He works miracles, he heals and he teaches a new way with God, and yet so often their eyes are veiled, and their ears stopped. Time and again, they are looking for Jesus as a military figure, who will get rid of the Romans and be their king. But what kind of king are they thinking of? Would it be one who, for a time, would hand out favours and ‘make them great again’..? What does that mean anyway?
The sign of the feeding is meant to lead the people to the true food from heaven, the food that the Son of Man will give and which is Jesus himself. What matters is not what Jesus can do for them, but who Jesus is. The Father has put his seal on him, like a silver- or goldsmith’s hallmark. Or, using the image of a letter, the imprint of a wax seal that identifies the author. Jesus, being the living Word, the One who bears the image of the Father, is restoring the connection between God and his people. And the seal of the Father upon Jesus is saying that he has the Father’s full authority. What Jesus does, God does, as the Scriptures tell us in the Old Testament as a foreshadowing of the New Testament.
The bread that Jesus is giving the people is not just for temporary consumption, but for eternity. It also comes with a demand: if the people are to be filled with the living Word, they will need to respond. And that response is to believe in Jesus, not just as a bread machine but as God’s Son, the Messiah, the Anointed One, who leads to the waters of eternal life.
Only true nourishment will fully satisfy and it comes from above.
What is it, that we are asking Jesus to do for us? And what is it that we offer in response? Amen.