Today's sermon is based on what Jesus said to the people on the second day of His ministry along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, after feeding them the first time with the magically multiplying fish and loaves. The subject is large, and will take up two installments to get it all in. Today we discuss mainly the distinction between earthly food and spiritual food. Next week we will discuss the methods by which earthly food may become spiritual food.
First the scripture from John:
26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
This passage is viewed by many as a rebuke of the people; the suggestion is that the people are not following Him because of the quality of the miracles He performed, but merely because they were getting a free meal. I find this interpretation to be far-fetched for several reasons, the main one being, that the people did come out to eat bread, but to hear the Master speak--the food was an incidental side issue, although, clearly an interesting one. Nevertheless, as with every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus, this saying speaks the truth on more than one level, just like every other parable in His repertoire. Jesus might be saying, "This physical food I give you is not important," but He might also be saying, "This physical food I give you is blessed with spiritual significance, a significance which applies directly not only to your daily bread as protein and fiber, but as a symbol of the higher spiritual nourishment invested in this bread by virtue of your own spiritual attention.
The issue is this: it must be admitted that some things have only carnal value, while other things have only spiritual value--but sometimes the same THING can be both carnal AND spiritual, depending on where the attention of the devotee is directed. Verily, verily I say unto you, the temporal or eternal value of a thing is determined not by the inherent quality of the thing itself, but, rather, by the attitude of the observer towards it; the spirituality of the observer transforms a thing from one consciousness state to another by an act of will. In other words, if some big-shot priest writes a large treatise on some religious subject, full of highfalutin' righteous-sounding jargon, but composes it in service of the ego, it is merely an earth-bound bauble, sounding brass, an evocation of carnal nature; while the humblest peasant meditation on a lily of the field, in all its spiritual glory, is of infinite value, and resonates through out eternity. The meat that nourishes the soul may be the very meat that nourishes the body as well, as long as the sanctity of the body is taken into account. All things may be made holy by the spiritual attention we give them.
Thus, Jesus' remark that the people followed Him to get a free meal, is not necessarily a rebuke, but, rather an affirmation of the PRACTICAL value of spiritual blessing. And, of course, the practical value of a miracle, is directly linked to the MORAL value of a miracle. The way spirit informs and directs our social actions is one of the least trivial considerations the devotee must consider as he travels the spiritual path. As I have repeatedly reiterated, I think that miracles in and of themselves are as meaningless as a card trick, or a rabbit popping out of a hat; BUT as the miracle reveals an underlying spiritual truth, nothing could be more significant.
A true miracle may possess merely temporal value if the significance of the miracle is lost on the observer, or if the observer simply forgets the significance of the miracle-- (as I've said before, a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear, may make a sound, but it makes no music)-- but if the miracle makes a lasting impression on the mind and heart of the observer, directing his attention up from the mundane to the divine, then the miracle has meaning. I think Jesus' main point is that a miracle must act on the soul not the stomach, but there is a vital and legitimate connection between the soul and the stomach.
In support of this idea we have this quote from Category Archives, Sep 17: Stacey Campbell
Do Miracles, Signs and Wonders Create Faith?
"Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed."The miracles of the loaves and fishes did not cause the people to believe He was the Savior. Some did think He was a prophet, others thought He’d make a good King; after all, He could feed them with little of their own labor. So this great miracle did not produce saving faith. The people did want to know how they too could “work” the works (miracles) of God. Jesus’ response is very telling to our brethren who are besotted with so-called signs & wonders today."
The link between miracles and faith is central to our understanding of this whole subject. However, an important question necessarily arises: which comes first, the faith or the miracle. More on this as we proceed.
The tremendous thing is that the same miracle can touch our hearts with transforming power again and again, as we are changed again and again. Remember my favorite quote from Dante where, as he describes his own rising up in heaven toward the face of God, he suddenly notices the static, eternally fixed face of God changing and modifying itself into ever new expressive and articulate forms.
"Not that there was more than a simple appearance
In the living light which I gazed upon
And which is as it has always has been;
But my sight grew stronger
As I looked; and so the static face of God
Transformed itself with every change in me."
Thus, a ritual whose purpose is to transduce spirit into flesh may bless us again and again, as we are changed again, and again, and again. God gives us this day and every day our daily bread, and this is a blessed, miraculous thing. But we must work to remember that this daily routine is imbued with the miraculous EVERY SINGLE TIME, and we must cherish it as miraculous EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Let us now get into some of the discussions I found online expostulating various other interpretations of the scripture.
The following is from the Forerunner Commentary, Bible Tools: Miracles of Jesus Christ: Feeding of 5000 :
"The day after feeding the 5,000 from one boy's lunch, as recorded in John 6, this miracle becomes the springboard for a lesson on where the Christian should go to receive the best spiritual nourishment for his mind. After Jesus perceives that the people seek Him out to be fed physically again, He knows that they do not properly understand what they had witnessed the day before. They do not understand the significance of the miracle in identifying Him as the Messiah, perceiving it merely as a means of getting food to fill their empty stomachs. There they are, hungry again.
In these verses, Jesus cautions His disciples about allowing the wrong focus to dominate their lives because it is so easily done. In this world, providing for our physical life requires a great deal of time and energy for most of us. This necessary activity, in addition to countless other distractions working to grab our attention, makes concentrating on seeking spiritual nourishment a responsibility that demands vision combined with discipline in the use of time."
The word discipline could not be more germane to this subject; attention must be paid, to the spiritual dimension of all worldly entities, with steadfast concentration--the ability to perceive the divine in mundane things is a skill that results from acts of will, which must be endlessly repeated and ingrained, in order for them to be cultivated into a virtue of permanently heightened awareness. Jesus bids us pray unceasingly--this is what He means. In other words, as in all things, practice makes perfect; and the seeker after divine knowledge must watch and wait with patience and uninterrupted focus. The meat that gives eternal nourishment comes at a cost, and that cost is an uncompromising faith in the power to see beyond the limitations of mundane perception. It is an aggressive faith--an insistence on seeing what cannot be seen. It is faith that empowers us; it is the transcendent power of spirit become flesh that enlightens us.
This is a quote from the New Advent website: Homily 44 on the Gospel of John, by Adam Clarke. Here, Clarke insists on the interpretation that Jesus is crabbing at the people for their shallow attitude toward His miracle-making:
“Jesus answered them, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, You seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled. Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures unto everlasting life.”
1. The mild and gentle is not always useful, but there are times when the teacher needs sharper language. For if the disciple be dull and gross, then, in order to touch his dullness to the quick, we must rouse him with a goad. And this the Son of God has done in the present as well as in many other cases. For when the crowds had come and found Jesus, and were flattering Him, and saying, “Master, when camest Thou hither?” to show that He desires not honor from men, but looks to one thing only, their salvation, He answers them sharply, wishing to correct them not in this way only, but also by revealing and exposing their thoughts. For what says He? “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” (speaking positively and with a confirmation,) “You seek Me, not because ye saw miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.”
He chides and reproves them by these words, yet does not so abruptly or violently, but very sparingly. For He says not, “O you gluttons and belly-slaves, I have wrought so many wonders, and you never have either followed Me, or marveled at My doings”; but mildly and gently somewhat in this manner; “You seek Me, not because ye saw miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled”; speaking not only of the past, but also of the present miracle. “It was not,” He says, “the miracle of the loaves that astonished you, but the being filled.” And that He said not this of them by conjecture they straightway showed, for on this account they came the second time, as being about to enjoy the same (food) as before. Wherefore they said, “Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness.” Again they draw Him to (the subject of) carnal food, which was the chief accusation and charge against them. But He stops not at rebukes, but adds instruction also, saying, “Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures unto everlasting life.” . . .
Do you desire to receive Me, and to provide for Me a costly table? Provide another sort of entertainment, by giving me a ready hearing, and by imitating your sister's longing for instruction.” He said not this to forbid her hospitality, (away with the thought! How could that be?) but to show that she ought not in the season for listening be busy about other matters. For to say, “Labor not for the meat that perishes,” is not the expression of one implying that we ought to be idle; (in fact, this most especially is “meat that perishes,” for idleness is wont to teach all wickedness;) but that we ought to work, and to impart. This is meat that never perishes; but if any be idle and gluttonous, and cares for luxury, that man works for “the meat that perishes.”
So too, if a man by his labor should feed Christ, and give Him drink, and clothe Him, who so senseless and mad as to say that such an one labors for the meat that perishes, when there is for this the promise of the kingdom that is to come, and of those good things? This meat endures forever. But at that time, since the multitudes made no account of filth, nor sought to learn who it was that did these things, and by what power, but desired one thing only, to fill their bellies without working; Christ with good reason called such food, “meat that perishes.” “I fed,” He says, “your bodies, that after this ye might seek that other food which endures, which nourishes the soul; but you again run after that which is earthy. Therefore ye do not understand that I lead you not to this imperfect food, but to that which gives not temporal but eternal life, which nourishes not the body but the soul.”Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Clarke, but this last paraphrase of yours is not to be found anywhere in MY Bible, especially the bit about, "Therefore ye do not understand that I lead you not to this imperfect food." This is an example of a perversion of scripture in the service of the ego--Clarke is dedicated to the proposition that Jesus has a certain attitude toward his audience, and therefore does not hesitate to put words into Jesus' mouth. I do not object to the sentiment therein expressed, but I find that Jesus' sayings are always more open-ended than Mr. Clarke would prefer, out of loyalty to his particular dogmatic slant on things.
This is from BREAD BELIEVERS, #545; another affirmation that Jesus is chastising the people for chasing after the wrong thing:
"Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed."
Our text was the answer that the Lord Jesus gave to the question asked by the people who came over the sea to Capernaum seeking Jesus. They were seeking Jesus, but what for? The emphasis that our Saviour is teaching us in this text is that we can truly be seekers of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet seek Him to a wrong end, with a wrong motive, with a selfish spirit.
The question in itself "Rabbi, when camest thou hither?" (in verse 25) was not wrong, but a simple answer to such an immaterial question would not have led to any profit. The Lord Jesus could have answered them by merely telling them when He came. There was nothing wrong with their question except that it was immaterial. The Lord Jesus does not speak any idle words, and He wanted to speak what would be for their profit.
Our text reveals that Jesus was not only well acquainted with their motives, but He understood why they were seeking Him. They were not seeking Him to know and do His will, but they were seeking Him out of a selfish motive. He knew what they were hungering for. "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled."
Why are we serving the Lord? Are we serving the Lord for something we can gain by it or is our motive to serve the Lord for His glory? Is our motive to serve the Lord to know and do His will for His honor and for His glory? "But because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled," they received something temporal. They were not seeking Him; they were not hungering after Him and His righteousness; they were hungering after the things of this life."
[Sidebar: Again, my problem with this whole line of reasoning is, "So what? What, indeed, should they be hungering after, but the things of this life? If Jesus' teaching does not make this life better, what good is it?"
There is an underlying prejudice here that must be exposed for what it is: a large number of Christians do not believe in the Kingdom of God manifested here on Earth--they are are so enthralled by the allure of a FUTURE Heaven, they deny the existence on Heaven here and now. This error leads to all sorts of logical and spiritual offenses. The separation of Heaven and Earth is a mistake that is characteristically made by people who have not really experienced the spirit in its fullness, who have not felt the flesh permeated and illuminated by spirit, and who have therefore not seen the world through the eyes of God, as a true and perfect creation, a variation on an eternal theme. Perhaps I quibble here, but I would prefer to eat heavenly bread that feeds my physical body, rather than to eat something that has no reality in my daily life.]
Now our Martin Luther quote for the day:
II. The Bread Of Heaven.
"12. The living bread, of which the Lord here speaks, is Christ himself, of whom we partake. If in our hearts we lay hold of only a morsel of this bread, we shall have forever enough and can never be separated from God. The partaking of this bread is nothing but faith in Christ our Lord, that he is, as Paul says in 1 Cor 1, 30, "made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption." He who eats of this food lives forever. Therefore, the Lord says, immediately following this Gospel lesson, where the Jews strove among themselves about this discourse of his: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
13. The bread from heaven the fathers ate in the wilderness, as Christ says here, was powerless to keep them from dying; but this bread makes immortal. If we believe on Christ, death cannot harm us; yea, it is no longer death. The Lord utters the same truth in another passage when he says to the Jews: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my Word, he shall never see death." John 8, 51. Here he speaks definitely of the Word of faith, and of the Gospel.
14. But one may say, as did the Jews, who took offense at these words of the Lord: The saints, nevertheless, died, and Abraham and the prophets likewise died. We reply, to this: The death of Christians is only a sleep, as the Scriptures everywhere call it. A Christian neither tastes nor sees death; that is, he is never conscious of any death; for this Saviour, Christ Jesus, in whom he believes, has destroyed death so that he no longer needs to taste it and pay its penalty. Death is to the Christians only a transition of life, yea, a door to life: as Christ says in John 5, 24: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my Word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life."
15. Therefore, a Christian life is a life of bliss and joy. Christ's yoke is easy and sweet; the reason it seems to us galling and heavy is that the Father has not yet drawn us, and so we have no pleasure in it, neither does this Gospel lesson minister comfort to us. If we, however, rightly appropriated the words of Christ, they would be of much greater comfort to us. By faith we partake of this bread that has come down from heaven, Christ the Lord, when we believe on him as our Saviour and Redeemer."
Here we see that Luther is agreeing with my main premise, that food for the body may be also be food for the soul if our attitude makes it so. We have recently spoken of the second birth into spirit. My contention here is that every time we partake of the bread that comes down from heaven we are born again--every spiritual morsel brings us closer to an unattainable but ever approachable perfection.
The following is from Invited by God to a meal that gives eternal nourishment: The Lord's Supper from a Calvinistic perspective by David R. Bickel, March 15, 2005:
The main goal of the Christian is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. That is why we were created. We want to know him, to know his love, grace, mercy, righteousness, justice, power, and majesty. We want to respond joyfully to his gifts with thankful praise for who he is. We want to enjoy the foretaste of his Spirit and expectantly long for the fullness of fellowship with him in the age to come.
"The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." We cannot fulfill our purpose through human willpower alone, so we must pray that we will not fall into temptation, trusting God to do the impossible, to free a slave of sin, to give sight to the spiritually blind, to resurrect the spiritually dead. He gives us what we ask for since we pray in the name of his Son, who came to free the captives, heal the blind, raise the dead, and proclaim the good news of forgiveness. Indeed, he demonstrated the power of his Father's kingdom over Satan's when he cast out demons and healed the sick by his word, proving that he could forgive sins by his word. When we pray that our Father would forgive us and deliver us from the Evil One, we pray for him to do so through the word of his Son.
We pray that he would reveal himself to us through that word, and we not only read his word, but we also hear it from his representatives. Even then, we sometimes find ourselves doubting it or becoming bored with it. We know that the words of Jesus are the words of life, and yet they only seem to lead to a greater knowledge of facts, not to knowing him more deeply. What is missing?
To those who desired earthly bread more than his word, Jesus said, "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you... This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:26-29). Instead of seeking things that pass away in this life, they were to believe in Jesus to obtain the food that lasts forever. Jesus then told them to eat that food:
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... Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 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. (John 6:51, 53-57)"
[Sidebar: Notice the reference to "true food" and "true drink"; surely this true food comes from God, as does all food. What is it that makes it true? God? Surely not, because all things come from God. It is we ourselves who make it true, by first acknowledging its source, and then focussing on the blessing inherent in it. If we seek, we find, if we do not seek we just get fat, more and more encumbered by worldly attachments.]
"They could not have understood him to refer to the Lord's Supper since it had not yet been instituted. Jesus first said that they must "labor" for food that gives eternal life by believing in him, and then he said that only those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life and will be resurrected on the day of judgement. The fellowship of believers with Jesus is so intimate that he described it as his being in them and as their eating his body and drinking his blood. In fact, he called himself "living bread" because those who ate and drank him had life from him as he had life from his living Father.
In other words, just as Jesus lived because he had the life of God in him, those who believe live because they have the life of Jesus in them. The eternal life that believers have is the life that Jesus lives. There is no other eternal life since eternal life is defined as knowing Jesus and through knowing Jesus, knowing his Father (John 14:8-10; 17:3). Those who believe in Jesus through the word become one with him and his Father (John 17:20-21).
What was missing? The original readers of John's Gospel immediately made the connection between eating and drinking Jesus to the Lord's Supper since they were reminded that the holy bread was his body and that the holy wine was his blood every time they met as a church. By recording that message of Jesus, John taught them to share the life of the risen Lord, eating his body and drinking his blood in the Lord's Supper, not in any literal sense, but by having faith in his body given for them and in his blood shed for them, for the forgiveness of their sins. John taught them to take in the life of Jesus spiritually as they ate and drank the Lord's Supper physically, to realize that such close fellowship with him is eternal life. They could experience that deep knowledge of Jesus every time they met as a church, looking forward to its completion in their resurrection."
This is from When Our Seeking Goes Astray (November 1) Nov 1, 2011, by Gary Henry:
“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him’” (John 6:26,27).
AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS POPULARITY, JESUS HAD NO LACK OF “SEEKERS,” BUT MANY OF THOSE WHO SOUGHT HIM DID SO FOR WORLDLY REASONS. After He miraculously fed the five thousand, the multitude came back the next day. On that day, however, Jesus did not feed them with loaves and fishes. Rather than another meal, what the crowd got from Jesus was an encouragement to elevate their concept of what He had come into the world to give them. He exhorted them, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.”
What this tells us is that even when we are seeking God, our seeking can go astray. Just when we begin to believe that we are seeking Him, we may look into our hearts and see that what we’re really seeking is the procurement of certain physical blessings. He has blessed us in the past, and we’ve greatly enjoyed His blessings. And so we return just as the multitude did, seeking Him the next day. But is it God whom we seek or have we returned to Him because we “ate of the loaves and were filled”?
The danger of concentrating on “the food which perishes” is that too little of our hearts is left over with which to focus on God. As Charles Spurgeon said, “A man’s heart has only enough life in it to pursue one object fully.” To whatever extent we seek the food that perishes, that much less energy will be available for seeking “the food which endures to everlasting life.”
It simply cannot be said too often: we must seek God with our WHOLE HEARTS. It is a SINGLE-MINDED focus on our Heavenly Father that will ultimately get us where we want to be: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). So however tempting it may be to devote ourselves to temporal needs and enjoyments, we must not let our seeking go astray. If it is not God whom we seek, then our seeking is bound to come to a bad end.
C. S. Lewis wrote: “God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way.”"
To reiterate my main point for today: it must be admitted that some things have only carnal value, while other things have only spiritual value--but sometimes the same THING can be both carnal AND spiritual, depending on where the attention of the devotee is directed. Verily, verily I say unto you, the temporal or eternal value of a thing is determined not by the inherent quality of the thing itself, but, rather, by the attitude of the observer towards it; the spirituality of the observer transforms a thing from one consciousness state to another by an act of will.
The ability to perceive the divine in mundane things is a skill that results from acts of will, which must be endlessly repeated and ingrained, in order for them to be cultivated into a virtue of permanently heightened awareness. All things may be made holy by the spiritual attention we give them. The humblest peasant meditation on a lily of the field, in all its spiritual glory, is of infinite value, and resonates through out eternity. Jesus bids us pray unceasingly--this is what He means. The seeker after divine knowledge must watch and wait with patience and uninterrupted focus.
But the meat that gives eternal nourishment comes at a cost, and that cost is an uncompromising faith in the power to see beyond the limitations of mundane perception. It is an aggressive faith--an insistence on seeing what cannot be seen. It is faith that empowers us; it is the transcendent power of spirit become flesh that enlightens us.
Let us pray: Jesus direct our attention to the signposts so liberally strewn along the spiritual path, so that we may see the divine in everything, and make everything in our lives divine. Reveal to us your mystery in every breath, your truth in every word, your love in every passing, eternal moment. Amen.