We have two dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs, Olivia and Brutus. The female is more aloof and only became friendlier after we brought home the male. Brutus does a lot of dog behavior, though he was not above learning bad habits from Olivia. He wanted to interact with us, often. Olivia saw that Brutus was getting some benefit from this interaction and decided she wanted a piece of the pie, for her, sometimes literally.
If one of us, especially my wife, left the room and Brutus was unaware of it, panic would set in. “Where did she go?” He would search from room to room. If she went outside, Brutus would become totally flummoxed as he would search the house. Then when he saw her, his tail would wag and it would be as if she had been gone for weeks. Brutus also acts that way when I enter a room even when he knows where I was. I could be gone 30 seconds and he acted like I was just back from a worldwide trip.
In so many stories in all four gospels, the crowds in the Galilee region acted like Brutus. “Where is Jesus? Where did he go?” Then when they found Jesus they would wag their tails and bring their sick to be healed.
That is also how John begins his version of the Feeding of the 5,000. Outside of the Passion story, this is the one story that is found in all four gospels. After the feeding, the disciples leave on the only boat while Jesus stays behind. The next morning they can’t find Jesus. So they start searching, like Brutus, not from room to room, but from anywhere Jesus might have slipped off to. They can’t find him. So they get in their boats and begin searching starting with Capernaum, Jesus’ home during his ministry.
They made a good, educated, lucky, guess. Jesus was in Capernaum. Knowing all the boats were accounted for, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Well, Jesus wasn’t going to tell them that he walked on the water to get there. Instead he wants to drive home the lesson of the loaves. He wants them to know that more than their bellies were filled the other day.
Jesus tells them that their Brutus reaction response was not because they wanted to find Jesus, but because their bellies were full. In John, the lesson of the Feeding of the 5,000 isn’t some great miracle, but it is a sign of God’s presence. The synoptics treat the feeding as a great miracle like the miracles of the great Bible stories. John treats it as something much bigger.
What Jesus says next has some interesting contrasts. The people are not to work for food that perishes. I mean, why knock yourself out for something that is transient, that never keeps. They didn’t have refrigeration. Instead, they should work for food that does not decay, that leads to eternal life. Then Jesus turns the concept around by saying that you don’t even have to work for this food, because the Son of Man will just give it to you. The Son of Man has the seal of God. What the Son of Man does has God’s seal of approval. It’s even better than Good Housekeeping.
The crowd senses that Jesus is shifting the responsibility of doing God’s work from him to them. But they are still in Brutus mode. They are still searching. They don’t know how they are to get this eternal life food. They don’t understand how they can have any hope of performing the works of God. They might be thinking, “That’s why we keep looking for you. You know how to do this stuff. We sure don’t.”
So Jesus tells them plainly how to do the works of God. All you have to do is believe in the one God sent.
They still don’t understand, but they have made some progress. But it is a two steps forward and a one step back kind of progress. They now seem to understand that God gives signs of God’s presence. Except that after all that Jesus has done, including the Feeding of the 5,000, they ask for another sign. “Give us a sign that we might believe you! Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness. They ate bread from heaven.” It’s almost like they are daring Jesus to top that, as if the miracle of the loaves never happened.
“What? Have you not been paying attention? Moses didn’t feed our ancestors. God did. And God is giving you true bread from heaven.” God’s heavenly bread gives life to the world. The crowd asks Jesus for a continuous supply of this bread. They do not understand that God fed them with the loaves just as God fed the Israelites in the wilderness.
In the case of pets, whether it is ours or yours, we are the ones who break and distribute the bread. I have to be careful when I bring out bread for a sandwich at home, because Brutus and his very busy nose is scoping out the bread. Brutus has a loud sniffer. The neighbors must be able to hear it. I need to put the bread in a place he can’t reach.
The disciples thought the bread was out of reach. Jesus knew it is for anyone. The crowds who seek out Jesus do not to understand Jesus’ message. Instead, they want to see another trick. They are like a child who sees a trick and demands to see it again. They are like Brutus who wants the bread, but cares little for what it really means to him.
Bread was the staple of the ancient Mediterranean world and still is in many respects. At each meal there was bread with some wine to chase it down. For dinner, the bread might be supplemented with some grapes, olives, other produce and some fish. How much of the non-bread meal was served largely depended on how wealthy a family was and 90% of all Mediterranean families were poor. Still, there was usually bread.
Now Jesus throws in the kicker, which leads to an argument. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life that you so desperately want.” Jesus is the source of heavenly bread. People who go to Jesus will never be hungry. People who believe in Jesus will never be thirsty. This is not what they wanted to hear. This is not what they expected to hear. Jesus knows this. Even though they have seen Jesus and they clamor for Jesus to do all the things they want Jesus to do for them, they do not believe. They are quite happy to have Jesus be their magician. “Please, please, just don’t make us commit to anything.”
Jesus says, in John’s gospel, several times, “I am.” In this case, it is “I am the bread of life.” Whenever Jesus says “I am,” his hearers are going to take notice. In Exodus after Moses asks God who he is going to tell the Israelites who sent him, God says, “Say I am sent you.” So when Jesus says “I am,” the people are going remember God’s response to Moses.
Jesus has a lot of balls in the air and it is more than the crowd can comprehend. Jesus is the mysterious Son of Man. Jesus is bread from heaven that is much better than that manna stuff in the wilderness. Jesus is the prophet of old that made food appear to feed the hungry. And Jesus is the sage.
Jesus seems to be trying to tell the people what the sages of a few centuries earlier were saying. Specifically, Jesus sounds like Lady Wisdom in Sirach 24:19–21:
“Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb.
Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for more.”
Only those who eat of Jesus will hunger no more. Those who drink of Jesus will thirst no more.
When we realize the importance of Jesus in our lives, we too, like the crowds of Jesus’ time, long for Jesus’ presence. Unlike the crowds, we don’t have to cross a lake to find Jesus. Jesus’ incarnation forever links the divine to humanity.
Through Jesus we are fed, a little physically, but much more so spiritually. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, as gross as that may be when said out loud, we are renewed and strengthened. Our indwelling spirits take flight. We are strengthened to do the work that Jesus would have us do. This connection with Jesus comes with commitment. Jesus charges us with making the world a better place.
Text: John 6:24–35