I guess we have all filled in satisfaction surveys at one time or another. It may be about a product we have bought, a course or conference we have been on or the service we have received from trades people. It appears everybody’s doing it. If you’re like me you probably try to avoid doing the survey, but when you are casting around to buy something, you’re more than happy to read what others have said; to see what people have written up on Trip Advisor. I wonder how would Jesus rate in such surveys?
In today’s gospel account from John, crowds have been out looking for Jesus. He has caused quite a stir on the other side of the lake of Galilee or Tiberius as John calls it. A large crowd of people have been fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish supplied by a boy who was probably on his way home from market. The next day, they found that the disciple’s boat was gone and there was no sign of Jesus. Eventually, they tracked him down in Capernaum, village that Jesus often used as his base when he was in the region.
John tells us that Jesus wanted some time by himself, but the crowds were insistent. People were going to great lengths to find him. There was great curiosity and interest in what he said and did. Rabbi, when did you get here? They ask (John 6.25) They don’t get a straight answer to that question. Jesus knows that is not the real reason for their interest. It is rather about what had happened on the other side of the lake. Their interest was in the free food they had received rather than the miraculous sign which had brought it about. They were easily satisfied by being given food rather than thinking about the bigger picture; about who Jesus really was that he could make the loaves and the fishes feed so many people with twelve baskets full left over. Jesus says: ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw the miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food which spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6.26-27)
It is easy to be satisfied with simple pleasures, in this case the enjoyment of an impromptu picnic in a remote place. There is nothing wrong with simple pleasures; they are gifts from God. A warm comfortable place to live, having some money to buy things which make us happy, may be to travel and enjoy entertainment.
‘All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.’
The chorus for ‘We Plough the fields and scatter.’
But Jesus wants to encourage those who had eaten their fill of the picnic to work not for the food which spoils but for that which endures to eternal life. He challenges those of us who are easily satisfied by the good gifts around us to work for some deeper satisfaction. To find some sense of meaning and identity to our lives that will last us well beyond the next pangs of hunger.
The crowds then ask Jesus what that might look like. ‘What must we do to do the work God requires? (John 6.28) The answer is that it is not work in the way we might usually understand it. ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6.29)
The work of God is to believe! Is that all? People often think that in order to find our true selves, to find the meaning of life and spiritual fulfilment, we must work very hard at it; that it’s a lifetimes work. I watched a BBC 2 documentary last week on the life of Leonard Cohen and his muse and sometime lover from Norway called Marianne. Leonard only sang sad songs which appeal to those of us who like the melancholy but what came out of the programme was his continual search to feel at ease in his own skin, to find something that truly satisfied him. He has been described as a ‘spiritual prospector’ (Kramer, 2016) At various points in his life, he had all the fame and money he wanted. He often got high on acid and speed living a typically debauched sixties lifestyle. He worked so hard trying to make sense of things spending several years in a Buddhist monastery where he had to wait hand and foot on his spiritual guru. It was a long hard slog for him for over seventy years. At the end, according to the programme, the only satisfaction he got was to die three months after Marianne. As she was dying, he wrote moving words to her saying he was not far behind her…close enough to hold her hand.
For every Leonard Cohen, there have been many others who have worked hard on a spiritual quest. But Jesus says: ‘The work of God is to believe in the one he has sent.’ In comparison to the hard work of searching, just believing sounds easy but of course is not always so simple. The crowd remonstrate with Jesus about what miraculous sign is he going to do to prove who he is. This is despite the fact he had just fed five thousand people from a packed lunch. The people remind Jesus that their ancestors had been fed for years on manna in the wilderness implying that was more of miracle. Jesus must remind them that that too was a work of God just as his feeding of the five thousand had been. Believing in Jesus is not easy otherwise more might do it. The miracles are there, the teaching is there for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear but the key is Jesus himself.
The climax of our reading this morning is Jesus’ declaration: ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6.35) He in lies the heart of our faith. It is all about Jesus from first last. It is about believing in him, trusting him and forming a relationship with him. The greatest sign or miracle which attests his identity is the resurrection. The empty tomb affirms that we can believe in, worship and befriend a risen Christ who can be as real to you and me today as he was to Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning.
Leonard Cohen is quoted on Facebook saying of Jesus: ‘He may be the most beautiful guy who ever walked the face of this earth.’ He says other wonderful things about Jesus all of which are true. But…and it’s a big but, he does not appear to have thrown his lot in with him; to have accepted and believed in him as the bread of life and therefore remained disappointed.
So, the challenge comes to us this harvest time as we give thanks for and enjoy all the good gifts of life, are you missing out. Are you just enjoying the food which perishes rather than looking for and believing in him who is the bread of life? Are you still working, or can you relax and believe? Is church just about keeping traditions going and having some good experiences with like minded people or is this the place you come to feed on the bread of life; to know and love Jesus more in prayer and worship, word and sacrament?
We started out with satisfaction surveys and ratings. Many products promise the moon and the stars but fail to deliver. Jesus promises that if we believe in him, we will never hunger and thirst spiritually again, we shall be satisfied. You know there is only one way to test any product out. Make sure you have your trust firmly in Jesus. In my experience, he’s a five star rating.