A crowd speaks to Jesus about bread. The day before, Jesus miraculously fed over five thousand people with a mere five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-13). They were so happy they wanted to grab him and make him king. He narrowly escaped to a nearby mountain (v. 14).
We may look for the meaning of life in happiness, power, or religion (Christ’s three temptations, Matthew 4:1-11). In the name of Jupiter, false god of politics, political leaders maintain their power by promising to provide people with the happiness that comes from a full belly with no work. The crowd following Jesus that day was especially pleased because he actually fed them.
Today, the crowd looks to Jesus for more of the same. Jesus questions their motives, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26, English Standard Version).
Jesus communicates with us through words and signs. He speaks to us today through words that we think, hear, read—and especially through the words of the Bible. Signs are events through which we experience Christ’s ongoing nurture and protection. For example, when we ask Jesus to deliver us from some evil and that evil suddenly disappears, that is a sign of his protection.
But Jesus does not represent Jupiter. He does not regard us as means to an end. He does not feed us to make us happy so that we will support him and make him powerful. He nurtures and protects us because he chooses to love us without condition.
Today through the Gospel according to John, Jesus invites us to regard him as he regards us. We regard him wrongly when we relate to him primarily as a means to an end. We treat him as a means when we relate to him primarily in terms of what we intend to get out of the relationship: bread, a steady job, helpful connections, emotional satisfaction, mystical bliss, social justice, health and wealth here and Heaven hereafter, whatever. We wrongly regard him when we relate to him as a means of gaining happiness, power, or righteousness. This, regrettably, is the conventional way of regarding Jesus.
Jesus chooses freely each day to love us without condition. His is not the wide highway of slavery. His is the difficult path of freedom. Each day he frees us to love him freely in response. He is always gracious to us. His graciousness invites and enables us to respond freely with gratitude.
Because he freely loves us, he graciously feeds us. Because we freely love him, we thank him for our daily bread. But when we regard him rightly, when we relate to him as an end in himself and not as a means to some other end, we rightly praise him even when being free with him on the difficult path means a diminishment of our own happiness, power, or perceived righteousness.
Freedom means one of two things. From a conventional point of view, freedom means the ability to do what we want when we want to. It means doing whatever we want to feel happy, powerful, or justified. In relationship to Jesus, freedom means liberation from all causes and consequences of evil. It means the ability to witness to the love that is ours in Christ by glorifying Father, nurturing and protecting other human beings, caring for all creation, and becoming whole persons.
Loaves are nice, indeed necessary, but why settle daily for loaves when we could be walking with the Bread of Life (v. 35)?
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