So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that Abba God has placed a seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Abba who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Signs. Wonders. Bread. Works. Performance. Life. Hunger. Thirst.
These are powerful words that evoke many responses. Sign. From traffic signs to signs of God, the word “sign” calls us to direction. Wither it keeps a safety in our social order or turns it on its head, a sign is powerful.
Wonder can be something that suspends our reality or makes us pause. Wonder can also be seen as a dream you have while awake. Wondering allows for you to process and discern the many possibilities that float around in your daily realities. Wonder draws you in to the dreaming reality of the Kingdom of God.
Bread from the bakery or bank feeds us. Bread is placed upon the Table we celebrate in remembering what Jesus the Christ has called us to be and equipped us to live. Bread fuels us as it feeds us.
Work is what we do. Work is how many of us identify and relate to others. We define ourselves by the work we do. Work gives us purpose and pride.
Performance is the measuring stick of our work. Performance may cause anxiety or challenge us to achieve beyond our wildest dreams. Performance is not something God is subject to or against, for God is beyond human measure.
Life is difficult to define. We have life or we do not have life. There is no in between. Signs, Wonders, Bread, Works, & performance all may give us life. Life is the noun to which these others are carried.
Hunger and thirst are powerful metaphors in a nation full of wealth. Many in this nation speak of hunger and thirst when describing competition in sport or in business. This allows us to dehumanize those around us we are called to love. You should not have to love anyone that is not human, right?
We often ask God, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?
There was a time in my life where signs were like magic. I would pray to God and open the bible and point to a verse. Then I would read that verse and try to make sense of verse in light of my woe.
It seems that the demand for signs coincides with woe rather than joy. Has anyone joyfully declared the need of a sign? Do we demand a sign when we encounter that needed “little extra” on our paycheck? Do we demand a sign when we have all we need?
I remember the time in my life when I would not do anything without a sign from God. I would look for signs everywhere. Which way to get to work…I need a sign Lord. I need a new job…I need a sign Lord.
There was this farmer that lived on land very near the meeting of two rivers. He loved that little farm. One spring the rivers flooded and ran their banks. The farmers land flooded. The farmer stood there as water slowly covered his lawn and prayed to God for a sign that he would be saved.
Along came a couple in a big truck and offered the farmer a ride. The farmer declined and said, “God will save me.”
The water rose some more and the farmer stood on his porch. The farmer prayed again, “Lord I need a sign that you will save me.”
Along came another man in a little metal boat and he offered the farmer a ride. The farmer declined and said, “God will save me.”
The water rose quickly and the farmer climbed to his roof. The farmer prayed again, “Lord I need a sign that you will save me.”
Along came a crew in a helicopter and they lowered a hoist to pick up the farmer and bring him to safety. The farmer declined and said, “God will save me.”
The flood washed away the farmers house and the farmer dies praying to God for a sign.
How often do we find ourselves to be the farmer? Praying for signs as God delivers us; only to be dismissed because it is not as we had hoped? This gets at me a little. I know I suffer the fool as I reject the deliverance of God for the hopes of my heart.
Having signs is not wrong. It is that demanding signs is not a fruitful endeavor. One of my favorite movies is, “Enter the Dragon.” In the very beginning Bruce Lee is training a young student. He instructs the student to look at the moon. The student gazes at the finger pointing to the moon. Brice Lee says to the student, “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all the heavenly glory.”
We fall in to the trap of “God you do so that I believe.” This may also sound a lot like, “If you’re good than God is good to you. If you are not good than God will not be good to you.” Has our demand or reliance on signs become idolatry? Have we been gazing at the finger and missing out on the heavenly glory?
Signs and wonders do not care for those living in poverty. If you were hungry and someone offered you prayer that God would care for you instead of food, would you not be upset? You certainly would still be hungry. I am not concerned with the spiritual salvation of others as much as I am concerned with their bodily reconciliation.
Salvation is not mine; it is not ours to offer anyone. Salvation comes from Jesus the Christ alone. I can speak to the salvation to which I have experienced and walk in community with others towards a greater understanding of what it means to be under the saving grace of Jesus. I do not get to decide who is in or out of that saving grace of Jesus the Christ.
There is a wave of Christian martyrdom that makes no sense to me. Christians are not being persecuted in the US. There is an abuse of privilege when we as Christians seek martyrdom. It is not that martyrs do not exist. We owe God better than that. Martyrdom looks different in a nation of wealth than it does in first century Palestine. Holding on to the oppressed label and faithfully martyring oneself if akin to the “reverse racist” card one wields when their privilege is exposed. Where are the lions with bellies full of Christians and the ashes of Christians burned at the stake for a faith that calls for justice?
Martyrdom is the easy way out in this world. It is a difficult, long road to work for justice in our corrupt and human institutions. Justice must be sought with humility and sustained by the bread of heaven. Jesus said, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The world needs the bread of heaven as much as it needs bread to sustain life as it works for justice.
We cannot engage the world in any other manner but that of Christ who walked in humility and demanded justice for the marginalized and oppressed. Jesus did say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Coming to Jesus means you are sustained by the bread of life. Absent of hunger you stand between the oppressed and oppressors and share the burden of injustice. No longer thirsty you are quenched by the water offered to you in the margins. You are a martyr as you walk with your neighbor as the world screams hateful things in your face. You are not a martyr by eating a chicken sandwich to support the discrimination of your neighbor.