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There was more going on than what meets the eye the day that Jesus turned one boy’s meal into dinner for a multitude. Jesus had just received his disciples back from their first solo mission, and he wanted to get away with his weary but elated friends. But he had become the talk of the land and time alone wasn’t easy to find. They got in a boat and withdrew to the far side of the lake but the crowd found them there. Privacy was not to be theirs that day.
Everyone had come unprepared for the day’s outing except for one boy. Who stops to pack dinner when there’s something exciting happening in town? This boy’s mother couldn’t have imagined how far her little provision would go. No need to send the people away to the neighbouring towns, for food was about to be given from heaven. The disciples were sent out, first with the task to organize as they sat the people down in groups. Then they returned with baskets loaded with bread and fish. Limitless baskets that were passed around and passed around again until everyone was fully satisfied, with no room for more.
How much did the people grasp as they stretched out for an after dinner nap? Did they think back to their history when God had provided bread from heaven throughout 40 years in the desert? Did they even realize they had just eaten a miracle?
“What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you?” some asked the following day after finding Jesus back on the other side of the lake. What more could they need actually?
If only they had been willing, they would have grasped what Jesus was offering. Not bread that fills temporarily, even as yesterday’s bread from heaven had, but bread that fully satisfies. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (v.35).” Bread of life which holds promises for eternity. “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (v.54).” Now that is one amazing offer, infinitely better than a free meal!
Yet this group argued instead of receiving it, tripped up by their skepticism, and unable to accept what they had just received.
Perhaps the exchange had spiralled too much for truth to be comprehended. But perhaps some of them reflected afterward on the scriptural parallels that they knew so well. God had provided Israel with manna for daily sustenance, but for other reasons as well: to humble them and to test them so that, in the end, it might go well with them (Deut. 8:16); to teach them that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deut. 8:3). I wonder if some of them make the connection during their conversations over dinner or as they lay awake pondering in the night. Bread from heaven was theirs for the asking if only they would desire it.
Peter listened to the spiralling exchange, watched the sceptics walk away, and showed that he had grasped it. “No we’re not leaving too. That’s unthinkable. For you, Lord, have the words of eternal life.” For the rest of his life Peter would stake everything on having understood that right.
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