The Heartburn of the 5,000 (plus women and children)
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand 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 God the Father has set his 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 Father 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."
We're always told Jesus has suffered all the temptation we have. (That's besides all the temptations he suffered that we never have, like the temptation to turn stones into bread, or bring down fire from heaven. . .) I can tell you at least one time he must have been tempted to pull his hair and slap a few people around.
He goes into the wilderness, but the madding crowd goes after him. He has compassion, so he teaches them and wracks his brain thinking of stories they might understand, a little. He teaches them for hours, until both he and they are exhausted. Then, instead of sending them home for supper, or for that matter, asking them to feed him, he divides them all up neatly into companies and multiplies a little bread and fish to feed them all.
[Sidetrack: I was in a Bible study group where someone said, "I read that wasn't really a miracle, he just shamed all the people into sharing what they had." The pastor and I said in unison, "What would be non-miraculous about that??"]
They like this. They really like this! Someone has a brainstorm. "We could make him king, and he could always miraculously feed armies!" Cool! Let's do that!
Everybody looks around in a bewildered way, then goes home, probably arguing about who saw him last and who offended him and why he doesn't want to be king. Does anybody remember even one of his stories?
Next day, they hear he might be in Capernaum, so they all beg, borrow, and steal boats to go find him. And they do! Yay!
Jesus gives them The Look. (I'll bet Jesus was really good at The Look.) "You aren't looking for me because of who I really am. You're only interested in the free food. Believe it or not, there are more important things."
Here come a couple of gems of questions. Gem #1: "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Does this mean they are making some attempt to convince him they are interested in righteousness? Or is the subtext, "How can we make magic food appear, Jesus? Huh? How?"
"This is it,"Jesus tells them. "Just trust me. That's all."
Whoosh! That's the sound of his words flying right over their heads.
Gem #2 (the real diamond!): "What sign will you give us, so we can know you're trustworthy?"
I BEG your pardon?! What sign?? This is where I'm pretty sure the temptation to hair-pulling comes into full force, if it wasn't already. But wait–there's more!! In case he isn't picking up what they're laying down, they spell it out for him. "Our ancestors ate the bread from heaven." And they quote a Bible verse for the real clincher. "Hey, Jesus, why don't you just give us manna? Yesterday might have been a fluke. Maybe my eyes deceived me. If you do it again, I'll know for sure it's for real."
Jesus doesn't pull his hair. He doesn't hit anyone. He probably doesn't even roll his eyes. He leans forward and says in his most intense voice, "Listen to me. That bread wasn't from Moses. It was from God. The true bread of heaven is that which comes down from heaven and brings life to the world."
Does even one person get it? Maybe a bunch do. I hope so. Because the crowd in general just lights up and says brightly, "Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, Jesus! Just give us this bread from heaven all the time!"
Then Jesus does something uncharacteristic. He lays it on the line. All his cards, right there on the table. He looks them in the eyes, and he says, "I AM the bread of life." I feel sure he looks directly into the eyes of whichever one or ones are actually listening. Who knows–maybe the little boy with the bread and fish. "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
It's the watershed moment of Jesus' ministry, actually. He almost does give in to the temptation to be discouraged, a few verses later.
Truthfully. . . what do you think you would have said and done, if you'd been there that day?