Last Wednesday I imagined myself the self-reliant man’s man, scaling Mount God to conquer Him—then shared my gratitude that He forgives my folly and makes Himself small enough to be digestible for His fallen creature.
I’ve said before that the Enemy will gladly you ride you whatever direction you’d like to travel, and so it is this past week. I went to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and my confessor was inspired to give me John chapter 6 as a penance: “Just read through it and reflect on it.” If you are following the daily Mass readings, these are the gospel passages for these middle days of the Easter season, beginning with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, and ending with the famous Bread of Life discourses, in which Jesus insists that His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, sacramentally speaking.
I’ve been down this road before and did not expect anything profound. But this time, I was struck hard by the worldly desires of the crowd who follows Jesus, as well as their fickleness:
- A vast crowd follows Him up the mountain because He has been healing the sick. He is working miracles to relieve real, but temporal (and temporary), suffering, and they are drawn to Him because of it.
- Jesus feeds them with five barley loaves and two fish; everyone eats their fill, and twelve baskets of scraps (more than the original meal) are collected afterward. St. John pointedly says that Jesus knew what he was going to do—clearly implying that the feeding of the 5,000 a work of divine power, and not an inspired bit of sharing among a bunch of people with bread and fish in their pockets. Jesus performs a miracle, again, to relieve real, but temporal and temporary, suffering – the hunger of a vast crowd of people in a deserted place.
- The disciples leave that evening, crossing the sea in a boat. Jesus doesn’t leave in the boat with them, yet the next day, when the crowd catches up to them on the other side of the sea, they don’t ask how Jesus got there, but when. What struck me in this reading is that they seem less interested in the improbability of His crossing the sea, and more concerned that He wasn’t where they expected Him to be. Jesus affirms that reading for me by ignoring their questions and instead revealing their motives: They are looking for Him because He filled their bellies, not because He comes from God.
- The crowd then pursues another question, asking what they must do to accomplish the works of God. Jesus answer that they must believe in Him, the one whom God has sent to them—and as though nothing has happened over the past few days, they ask Jesus what sign He can do for them to believe. Never mind the incredible healings and miraculous meal we have witnessed—what can you do for us now?
The previous day Jesus withdrew from the crowd because they wanted to make Him king by force. Now they are underwhelmed by the Lord, who refuses to perform for them or provide easy answers. They are looking for physical relief, while Jesus wants to save souls. They are concerned with their well-being here and now, whereas He is concerned with eternity.
So where am I at?
This week I’m like the crowd, in search of a God who will provide what I want, when and how I want it. The immense God I wrote about last week, who condescends to make Himself small so He can commune with us, is now ideally “fun-size”—an individually wrapped dose of deity I can open and enjoy on demand, getting that little God-buzz I need to get me through the next challenge or over the next hump.
In other words, the God I seek to satisfy my temporal hungers is no God at all, but a convenient substitute, designed by the Enemy to provide a temporary high, followed by a dissatisfied crash.
In John 6:27, Jesus advises, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” He expounds that this food is Himself, the Word of God, who is from God, who is God, and who gives Himself to us sacramentally. He is not fun-size, although He wills to be bite-size in the Eucharist. The point is, He wills it. We have no power here, except to submit and receive what He provides. But what He provides is not a short sugar-buzz and a crash, but life eternal and joy in abundance.