What does Jesus offer?

Sally Oakes's picture

The following is based on John 6:24 – 35, where Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

What do you want?

Long ago, during my first round of chaplaincy at Crawford Long Hospital, when I was first new at seminary — 1987 — I visited a man in, I suppose, his late 30s or 40s. It would have made him a baby boomer and he was a Vietnam vet, but that’s not what’s so important except that I see now that what he said can be viewed as a reflection on our generation.

We somehow got to talking about different churches, different denominations. He was a nominal member at the church where he grew up but he was a bit of a church hopper at the time I visited him. He’d go to on e church for awhile, be involved, attend Sunday school and worship and then he’d go somewhere else. It wasn’t that he left in a snit; it was that the church he was attending got boring after a while. He said that the sermons started to sound alike and the Sunday school was the same old thing. “But,” he concluded, “I guess it doesn’t matter where you go to church; you go where you get fed.”

This memory came to me as I considered Jesus’ saying, “I am the bread of life.” It reminds me that people today are not much different from the crowds back in Jesus’ day — all wanting more, still thirsty, still hungry.

It’s like Augustine saying that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God. We are a restless, hungry and thirsty people. We hunger to be seen, to be known, to matter, to have meaning and purpose. We hunger for recognition and thirst for affirmation that we are here. We hunger for 15 minutes of fame. John tells us that they (the crowds) had come looking for Jesus again.

Why did they come? We know that earlier in the chapter Jesus fed 5,000 with 12 baskets of leftovers. Because they sat down to eat what Jesus offered, they were filled with more than enough. Moreover, Jesus reads their motives in verse 26, “Very truly, I tell you, you are coming for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They wanted full stomachs instead of fulfilled lives. They missed the fact that Jesus provides in times of hunger isn’t about what he provides but that he provides. They ate the food but missed the meal; they heard Jesus speak but they missed the message ... a message that still says: “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” They missed the message that little does become much when given to the Master, that Jesus is the bread of life.

A life offered to Christ can feed Gospel to the world. A life offered to Jesus won’t be subject to the hunger pains of materialism or the stomach growls of self-indulgence. Jesus offers the alternative to food that’s fast. He offers food that lasts. It’s one of the reasons we take time to fast and abstain. It’s so that, when free from the easy food in our diets we can eat more hungrily of the food that lasts.

The bread of life lasts during the storms of life. It sustains us from generation to generation. If we believe in God and that God sent his Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, why are we still hungry? What do we really want?

I believe this text tells us that God provides through Jesus not what we want but what we need. We may want to be seen, but we need to know that we are seen. David said in Psalm 139, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away.” How’s that for being seen? How’s that for being known?

I now disagree with the man I visited so long ago. It’s not about “getting fed;” babies “get fed;” rather, it’s about being nourished. The crowds came to Jesus for the free food – but what he’s offering is the bread of life. What he’s offering is himself.

Are you hungry?

Sally Oakes is pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, 607 Rivers Road, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Phone: 770-964-6999 or 770-964-6992, or e-mail bethanymnc@bellsouth.net.

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