In John 6, Jesus’ words and actions become increasingly difficult to understand. The chapter begins with Jesus recognizing the gathered crowd’s physical hunger, transforming a child’s limited resources into abundance and providing a meal for everyone. By John 6:56-69, Jesus moves from showing people a tangible miracle to telling them about the ultimate, intangible miracle: his crucifixion and God’s gift of eternal life for believers.

Notice that Jesus meets the crowd’s physical needs before helping them understand that fish and loaves are only the beginning of his ministry. Jesus explains that he’s not just a short-term nourisher—he’s also the eternal nourisher.

Nevertheless, some followers doubt him. Some witness the miracle of fish and loaves but miss the miracle of Jesus before their eyes. Even though they have seen Jesus in action, they can’t grasp that the power in feeding the 5,000 lies not in bread and fish but in the hands that blessed, broke and served them. Some are so doubtful of the things Jesus says that they turn away and stop following him. They leave hungry.

In these passages, Jesus doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining to his followers why his body and blood offer eternal life. He just declares that they do. The reality is that there are mysteries we just won’t understand. But Jesus never asks his followers to understand. Instead he invites us to eat.

There are mysteries we just won’t understand. But Jesus never asks his followers to understand. Instead he invites us to eat.

See, the thing about understanding is that it’s rooted in our own power, in limits we control, in our own abilities. The great, eternal mystery Jesus describes is more wonderful than anything we could imagine.

Jesus tries to shift his followers’ focus from perishable bread to the bread of eternal life. He offers the promise of life-sustaining goodness that fulfills forever. He offers an abundant, overflowing goodness that looks not like the abundance defined by worldly standards but like the goodness that surpasses all understanding. Jesus sates the hunger in our souls in a way that bread from Pillsbury, Panera Bread or even the best bakery in town simply cannot do.

Approaching this text, perhaps we are like the disciples, desperately trying to comprehend what Jesus means. What would happen if, rather than focus on our understanding, we focused on the promise of Jesus—the promise that, by the grace of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave his very body, shed his blood, so we might have life forever?

By his grace, Jesus has offered himself as the everlasting, life-sustaining meal of love that changes our lives forever. I don’t need to unravel the mystery, as long as I have the promise. Please don’t let your understanding—or lack thereof—cause you to leave hungry.

Tiffany Chaney
Tiffany C. Chaney serves is pastor of Gathered by Grace, a synodically authorized worshiping community of the ELCA, in Montgomery, Ala., and is communications chair for the African Descent Lutheran Association.

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