Remember how a month ago I stated I was going to try to write a blog post nearly every day about each chapter of the Gospel of John?
Yeah, I don’t either.
Just kidding, but I have kept up on my goal to try blogging daily in shorter bursts, but it just has not worked out so much on the whole John thing, but I am still committing to posting on each chapter, I’m just… taking a while to do it. The Gospels are way richer and full of content than one can possibly do justice in a small 700 word blog post. I want to talk about fresh bread in today’s post.
Mostly because as I glance over the whole chapter it consistently has this one theme jump out regarding bread and feeding hearts and souls. For time’s sake, we’ll mostly look at the latter portion of this chapter. But to pass and review, the chapter begins with a large crowd following Jesus and listening, and out of compassion that they’d not go hungry, he feeds them. Not only did he feed them, but there were baskets full of leftovers because the crowd had been completely filled (v.12-13).
Now notice, in verse 15 it states that they wanted to make him king. Interesting; providing for them in a tangible way made them want to make him their ruler immediately.
Here in Peru, the nation just inaugurated their new president earlier in the week. He had campaigned with some rather dubious campaign platforms, but because more than one third of the nation lives in abject poverty, they elected him anyway because he’s claimed he’ll do something to help them. This post won’t go into how volatile South America is, or its politics, but I’ve recently just seen this at play.
When asking Peruvian taxi drivers why they’d vote for this candidate or the other that was running against him, repeatedly I’d heard corruption ignored for the fact that when a certain president was running Peru autocratically during the 1990s, “at least we had food on the table.”
And so it was with Jesus too. The crowds followed him as long as He put bread on the table. These same people in verse 24 got into boats to follow after Him when they realized he was nearby and couldn’t find Him. And when they asked Him when He got there, He responded:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
Large Followings Don’t Necessarily Mean Fruitfulness
I’ve oftentimes wondered how large churches necessarily are an indication of impact on the cities they’re in. There’s a church in Lima who has a wonderful reputation in this city and most people know about it. It’s huge in terms of its numbers, and when an earthquake happened in 2007, there were three organizations the government got behind to help in disaster relief, and this church I’m thinking of was one of them.
Large numbers of people CAN be a productive force for good, yes, so I’m not saying my generalization that follows is true all across the board.
But how often does loafing happen, even in Christian contexts?
Businessdictionary.com defines social loafing the following way:
The Tendency of certain members of a group to get by with less effort than what they would have put when working alone. Its two common manifestations are (1) Free-rider effect, where some members do not put in their share of work under the assumption that others’ efforts will cover their shortfall, and thus cause (2) Sucker effect, where the other (fully performing) members lower their efforts in response to the free-riders’ attitude.1
This basically describes the tendency of individuals to put forth less effort when they are part of a group. Because all members of the group are pooling their effort to achieve a common goal, each member of the group contributes less than they would if they were individually responsible.
I once heard some kind of story about a woman being beaten by thugs while a crowd of possibly as many as 30 people stood and watched. Asked about it later, many of the individuals in the crowd had been asked by the authorities why they did not call the police, and the most common answer was that everybody thought somebody else already did and they were waiting for the police to arrive and do something about it.
The idea has something to do with large numbers have a neutralizing effect, and in a larger group individuals become irresponsible because someone else or some others will have done something about it, absolving us of our role.
One thing I think happens quite often in church circles and groups, is the fact we may confuse numbers with results or influence (I may be speaking to leaders and people in positions of high influence) and forget that the Gospel is a personal call to death to self.
We forget that what we are inviting people into is a personal invitation to take up our cross and die to our earthly lives and become a slave of Jesus Christ who paid for us with his blood. All of us are called to play a part as individual parts of the body making up the whole (see Ephesians 4:11-16)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v.35-40)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (v.47-51)
Jesus made it clear that we’re to feed on this bread, and not the physical bread that perishes (v.26). Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (v.54-57)
Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is not just reading a leather-bound book, but having daily ongoing communion with Him, feeding off His ‘flesh’. His substance. This concept was so offensive to those who followed Him, for physical bread that goes stale and perishes if uneaten, that they stopped following Him when he laid the gauntlet down and made clear what a radical discipleship meant.
The same people who wanted to make Him king just a day or two beforehand.
I find it interesting to say the least. Leaders and persons of high influence with a lot of ‘followers’ will need to make note that whatever tool of this earthly realm you use to get followers you’ll need to keep using or providing in order to maintain that following.
However, a call to radically follow Christ as a disciple tends to thin out the crowd quite substantially. It’s easy to get people coming to your church when you do things like provide free Starbucks in the sanctuary, or offer gift certificates for new visitors, or different types of incentives like that.
But what about “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”?
How many methods of innovation and calls to make an impact are using bread of this world that perishes, and trends that are here today but gone tomorrow? And how many of us are making disciples, who are dead to the things of this life? I ask myself these questions as I write posts like this. What am I building with — stuff that is eternal, and imperishable? Or wood hay and stubble?
Bread that perishes and only fulfills an immediate need? It’s easy to follow him from a distance and eat bread, but what about looking into his eyes of fire? What about the sword of the Word penetrating our heart and allowing us to be changed from the inside out?
These are just some thoughts worth asking myself, and you. Do you feed on the imperishable bread?
Friend, eat the bread of eternal life.