a Homily for Proper 13B
Text: John 6:24-35
Why do you follow Jesus?
For Christians, this should be an easy enough question. But it isn’t for most of us. Or at least there’s trouble in the answering.
Why do you follow Jesus?
For many of us, we had a moment in which our belief in the power of the almighty was affirmed in some way. Many call this an “aha moment”. We sensed GOD’s presence or something clicked.
For many of us, it was relationships with faithful people that allowed us to see Christ in them.
For many of us, well…we don’t have much of a reason at all. We just always have. Our parents brought us to church and we stayed. It is kind of like driving on the freeway and seeing everybody ahead of you move into the left lane–”they must know something I don’t!” we think.
For too many of us, the reason is transactional: we want something out of it. We want our ticket punched for heaven. Or, like the pious young man, we think Jesus cares one bit how “good” we are. Do you love GOD and your neighbor? That’s Jesus’s score card. Not how well we followed the rules.
It’s just bread
That is what Jesus is asking the crowds, essentially, in this pericope. “Why do you follow me?” Jesus knows that their reason for following Him is wrong. That they want something from Him. They want miracles—they want Jesus to keep being the Magic Man. Like junkies, they want to keep witnessing the miraculous accomplished by others. They want to keep seeing (what they don’t even realize is) the face of GOD.
Because to them, it isn’t the face of GOD. It’s just bread.
The disciples had a hard enough time understanding the bread. This essential substance. Jesus’s symbol of radical equality and generosity: our daily bread. The crowd certainly didn’t get it. They thought Jesus was giving out free food. And living in the Land of Scarcity and not the World of Abundance, they wanted more and Jesus can give it to them.
But He can’t. That isn’t Jesus’s purview.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Huh? Didn’t we just read about the Feeding of the Five Thousand? Isn’t He, himself GOD and person of the Trinity? What do you mean ‘He can’t?”
I mean Jesus can’t.
That doesn’t mean GOD can’t.
Jesus’s point with the crowd that comes searching for Him has two aspects: 1) Jesus isn’t a Magic Man because GOD is responsible for the miracles, not Him and 2) the people are co-conspirators in the miracle. The disciples find the bread and fish. Jesus blesses it and breaks it, the disciples distribute and clean up the remainder. What happens in the miracle is a conspiring act of supreme power in which reality is bent and the Kingdom of GOD emerges. The thin space in Celtic Spirituality. It happens when GOD, Jesus, the Spirit, and the people change the course of the world.
Jesus challenges the crowd to see this. To see the underlying problem is that they were only following Him for physical benefits: being fed, changing their personal position in society, healing the wounds: and not spiritual ones. We are no strangers to this mistake. We pray for healing, wealth, and changing our fortunes. Yet none of these deals with our spiritual needs. The crowd doesn’t seek food that provides true spiritual nourishment. Perhaps it is more like junk food or drive-thru nourishment. They don’t want their hearts and minds changed or to conspire with GOD in changing their insides, just the outsides.
That’s the reason we follow Jesus.
The inside. That’s what separates us from the crowd in the story. None of us is simply chasing miracles. We aren’t looking for a fix.
Yet, that image resonates. That sense of not really knowing why we’re here. Why we get up on Sunday other than “we’re supposed to.” Throughout scripture Jesus poses this same question in differing forms. He asks people “Why? Why do you follow me?” and as they struggle, he offers them direction: this is the Way to GOD. So an easy response is that we follow Jesus because He’s the one on the right path.
But this is an essential question for each of us to wrestle with. To ask ourselves “why?” This is how we know where Jesus is. Because our answers reveal where our heart is.
I follow Jesus because he called to me and tested me. Because he wanted another co-conspirator to seek the Kingdom of GOD and drag it closer. Because I needed to love GOD and my neighbors a whole lot more than I did.
May, the ensuing silence create a space to hear the Spirit’s whisper, may our week be filled with moments of revelation, and may our eyes and lives be fixed upon the Way because it is our insides that propel us there. Amen.