Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign
Proper 13, Year B, RCL, Track 1
Psalm 51:1-13, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
Bread has been the staple of life by some estimates for 30,000 years.[i] White, leavened, wheat bread has been the ideal standard well before 400 B.C.E. and historically the varieties of breads were numerous. A third-century philosopher from Egypt said, in his time, it was common to find “leavened and unleavened loaves; loaves made from the best wheat flour; loaves made from groats, or rye, and some from acorns and millet. There were lovely crusty loaves too, and loaves baked on a hearth. Bakers made a bread mixed with cheese, but the favorite of the rich was always white bread made from wheat.”[ii]
Last week, our story opened with the people sitting in the pews listing to Jesus; well I guess they were sitting on a grassy hillside listening to Jesus. The people listened to the Word, and afterword they were fed with bread and fish. We don’t know what kind of fish that they had, but we do know what kind of bread. They were offered barley bread. In Rome, this was the humble bread of the poor; gritty, crumbly, very high in fiber, and hard to digest. And unlike the wine, where Jesus turns water into the best quality wine, here Jesus multiplies what they already have, barley loves.
Our story opens the next morning, when these people noticed that Jesus had disappeared. He didn’t go with the disciples in the boat the night before and now he is nowhere to be found. I guess through word of mouth they heard that the disciples whet to Capernaum. These followers are not like the people of Capernaum, who in Mark’s gospel account, were rushing about wanting to be touched by Jesus so that they could be healed. These followers didn’t want to be healed they just wanted to know how Jesus got to Capernaum before they did. Was this another miracle? Was this another sign? Jesus doesn’t give in to the people’s desires. He is not interested in proving who he is by the signs he performs. Yesterday he spent hours teaching them about what is important and today they just want another sign.[iii] This reminds me of the hit song Signs, by The Five Man Electrical Band.
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind.[iv] YouTube Link Here
Instead of giving them another sign he diverts them by asking about faith. “Do not WORK for the food that perishes, but [work] for the food that endures for eternal life.” (Work on your faith.) Jesus spent hours teaching them about the kingdome of heaven. And what are they focused on? The signs.
They asked Jesus, “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.’” It is true, that through God, Moses gave the people bread from heaven; bread that appeared on the ground like dew in the morning. But it seems that they did not recognize the bread they just received was also from heaven. Jesus is showing them the signs they want and they do not recognize them. Jesus crosses the sea, without getting wet by walking on water. Moses crosses the sea, without getting wet, by parting the waters. The signs are there, but they miss them. They have created a box to put God into and if God doesn’t fit this box it must not be God or the Messiah.
Faith seems like it would be much easier if we just had a few more signs. Here we are 2,000 years after Christ and we sometimes think how easy the disciples had it with Christ in their lives, in their very midst. When we delve into this reality it doesn’t seem much easier, after all, we have Doubting Thomas, who well…doubts. Peter is no better. He often lacks understanding and seems just as confused as we do. We are not hopeless. The disciples weren’t hopeless, nor are the people following Jesus.
Jesus asks us to look at what we are working toward. Are we working toward worldly things in hope that we may find God in them? Or are we working by faith, hoping for enduring eternal life? We like the people in the Bible work. We do work to puts food on the table, clothing on our backs. We work to create a better life for our loved ones. Working for our daily bread is a good and noble thing. But it is not the end-all-be-all. Jesus says there is more, more work to do and that work is following him in faith.
The faith I think he is talking about is the knowledge that the signs of the world may bring us our daily bread but they will not bring us the bread of life. He said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Obviously, Jesus is not talking about bodily hunger. Through seeking Christ in faith we will be fed spiritually. We will be satisfied with who we are and who he made us to be. We will find our deepest satisfactions not in the world but in God himself. The worldly signs that we seek after will no longer hold the significance that they once did and we will be freed to seek after God in deeper and deeper ways. Or as Paul tells the Ephesians, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In releasing the worldly signs we are better able see God beyond the box we have made form him and to see the heavenly signs which guide us in doing God’s work in the world.
[iii] Mark 6:34, Luke 9:11
[iv] Signs; Five Man Electrical Band; Songwriter Les Emmerson; 1971