“Will Work For Food!” (John 6:24-35)
The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost (August 5, 2018)
The bearded gentleman sitting at the entrance to the Walmart parking lot sported a sign that read: “Will work for food.” Be it my suspicious nature or my many past experiences dealing with those some might call panhandlers, I must admit my first thoughts were not very complimentary toward this man. Instead, all I could say to myself were things like, “Why doesn’t he apply for a job at Walmart? Their “Help Wanted” notice is still posted on the building entrance.” “In this day and age of community food banks and food stamps there is no reason he should have to beg for food.”
All such suspicions aside, I do believe, generally speaking, people are willing to work for food. Yes, there are those occasional freeloaders, who think life is a free lunch and everyone owes them everything. It’s not above them to use such a sign merely as a ploy to get money without working. After all, they have learned over the years that most passerbys neither have the time nor are willing to take the time to give them some work to do but will out of a sense of guilt hand them some money But by in large, most people seem to realize that if they want to eat they will need to work. So, to be fair, some who hold up the sign, “Will work for food!” do mean it and will do some work for you in exchange for food or money to buy some bread.
But, you know, when you really think about it, even the idea of working for food is wrong-headed from the start. From the beginning work itself was a gift from God. It was not given man as a means to get food or even money for oneself but as a means to be in service to others. In the second chapter of Genesis we read: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Gen. 2:15).
Later on the Apostle Paul admonishes those who refuse to work that by not working when they were fully capable of doing so, they are sinning against others by making themselves a burden to others (2 Thes. 3:10). In his letter to the Ephesians Paul also lays out the whole purpose of work. He writes: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28).
Unfortunately, as I remind myself every year with gardening and canning, food is connected with work. Sometimes a lot of work! But that ought not surprise us. Thanks to sin, the perfect, at rest, realm of the Garden is no more.
And, just think about this; one food that is the most universal in our world today is bread. In fact, in some regions of the world, it’s a staple, without which many would die. Yet, bread is a post-fall food. Prior to sin in the world, Adam and Eve did not need to work for food and so did not eat bread. Their food grew naturally and freely all around them. It was free for the taking. But after their fall into disobedience, God told Adam as part of the consequences of his rebellion, “Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life... by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” (The King James Version has “you will eat your bread.”)
Bread takes a lot of work. First you must grow the grain...fighting the insects, droughts, floods, poor soil, and of course, weeds. Then the grain must be harvested, milled into flour, and then baked into bread. A lot of sweat goes into one loaf of bread. People who want to live will be willing to work for bread... for food!
We put allot of time, effort, and money into the production of bread and other foods. But it is a pretty poor investment when you really think about it. Food always spoils. Like the Manna that God gave to Israel in the wilderness of their wanderings, which would only last until morning without spoiling, neither does all this bread or food which we sweat and work for last. Neither does it keep us alive forever. Not even Wonder Bread or fortified whole wheat bread has enough nutrition to keep us alive but for a few days. We have to keep eating and eating. Eating is necessary as long we live. Imagine the time and effort we would save if we never had to work for food or to eat food!
Jesus also speaks of the futility of working for this worldly bread. Talking directly to the very crowd who had eaten from the 5 loaves and two fish a day earlier, He said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.” Even the miraculous loaves and fish Jesus created falls into the category of food that perishes.
I find it rather interesting that the noun form of the word Jesus used when He said, “had your fill,” is the word used for fodder for domestic animals and at times even for grass on which the cattle of a thousand hills graze. Cattle, sheep, pigs are not nutritionists. They just want their stomachs to be filled. Food is just a means to an end for them.
Therefore, Jesus is saying to those who want to be filled on mere earthly bread, “You don’t really want me or especially the true food and life I alone can give you. You just want your tummies full! You’re just like cattle!”
So what could be said of us? Look how much time and effort we are willing to expend to work for this earthly food that does not last nor sustain us forever! Hour upon hours of our days are spent not only in food production and food preparation, but also just eating of our food. We do the same for many of the world’s perishable goods. We work extra jobs and extra hours just so we can buy those expensive cars, boats, luxurious homes, latest technological gadgets and even entertainment. Then we seem to owe our souls to these things trying to take care of them. We are willing to work our butts off for what does not last... does not give us peace and happiness... which does not give us true inner fulfillment. How sad and pathetic is this that we hold up signs that say, “Will work for food that spoils!”
In the sixties a story went around about a couple spaced-out hippies, who knocked on a parsonage door one day. When the pastor answered the door, they held out their hands and one of them said, “Hey, man, you got any bread?” The pastor assured them he did and quickly returned with a whole loaf. He told them they could have it all because he had an extra. Pushing it back, the hippie replied, “No, man, I mean, like, real bread--you know, the bread of life.”
Somewhat embarrassed, the pastor quickly left and returned again with a Bible. He asked if there was any particular portion they would like him to read or if they would like to have the book as his gift so they could read it for themselves. The panhandler pointed a finger of one hand into the palm of the other, held it out, and said, “Look, man, I’m talking about true bread here--- M..O..N..Y!” At that the pastor excused himself because his toast was burning or something and shut the door. (Edit-O-Earl)
Such is the mindset of sinners. We are obsessed with working for the wrong bread... the bread that always perishes. But as The Bible teaches us, Man does not live by bread alone.” No mere earthly bread can give true, spiritual, and eternal life.
Fortunately for us, there’s another bread that endures to eternal life. In fact, it gives life! What is this bread? Where does it come from? Jesus says, “This is the food that the Son of Man shall give you.”
As John notes, Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 plus people was not an exercise of providence; that is, merely meant to fill people’s stomachs. Rather, it was performed to be a true sign pointing everyone to Jesus, as the Son of Man, the One whom God the Father had sealed from all eternity to give to the world the true Bread that if anyone would eat of it, he would never die but live forever. After all, only Jesus is “He who has come down out of heaven from the Father.” Only Jesus, not Mohammed, not Buddha, not even Moses, has given His life in atonement for the sins of the whole world. Only Jesus, therefore, can give life to the whole world.
Only Jesus, as God in Human flesh has come from the Father to reveal the Father’s heart of grace and love to us. Only Jesus has reconciled us back to the Father. Only Jesus has conquered death through His death to be our resurrection and life and to justify us before the Father. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Only Jesus, Who Himself is the Bread of Life, can satisfy all thirst and hunger forever.
In response to Jesus’ exhortation to the crowd to be working for this Bread, the people said to Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus however, said to the crowd of bread seekers, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
Poor deceived bread-seekers. They gladly held up to Jesus their signs that they were willing to work for food, but had no concept at all of what the real food consisted of nor how to obtain it. Not only were they working for the wrong food, food that perishes, but they also did not recognize that, as Jesus says, the working for this heaven sent food is also a gift of God’s grace.
The premise of their question was totally wrong. They were thinking in terms of “works God required.” As typical of their generation they were steeped in the false theology of works righteousness. They assumed that this life-giving Bread was to be earned by their merits and works! But Jesus set them straight. Working for the Bread of Life He said is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that believing, He qualified, is the work of God. We might paraphrase: Believing in Jesus is work which God gives and does.
Many today still get this all wrong. They imagine that faith in Jesus is something we work within ourselves, or at the very least, cooperate with the Holy Spirit in producing in us. But such imaginings void the cross of Jesus and make our salvation in some way be dependent upon our working, which is thoroughly condemned in Holy Scripture. Scripture is crystal clear. We are we are “saved by God’s Grace through faith in Jesus Christ and that is not of our own doing but it is the work of God” (Eph. 2: 9). Just as salvation comes to us freely by God’s grace on account of Jesus Christ, so faith which grabs hold of that prize is also a gift of God’s grace and a result of God’s work in us.
We read from our Lutheran Confessions:: “Holy Scriptures ascribe conversion, faith in Christ, regeneration, renewal, and everything that belongs to its real beginning and completion in no way to the human powers of the natural free will, be it entirely or one-half of the least and tiniest part, but altogether and alone to the divine operation and the Holy Spirit. ”(Formula of Concord, Art.II, Tappert p. 526).
Isn’t it far greater to eat at rest then to be working for food? God in His grace brings us back to the restful garden when He gives us faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Through faith we have no need to work. Faith merely receives what God works for and is graciously giving to us. Through faith we eat the Bread of Life, satisfying all hunger and thirst forever.
Through faith in Jesus we are freely eating of the Tree of Life. We are no longer working for the bread that perishes. When we attend the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in His Holy Supper, we are eating for life without our work and we are being fed the Bread which gives us life.
May God grant that our sign in life not read: “Will work for food that perishes,” but instead read: “Enjoying God’s Work in us to give us the Bread that endures to eternal life.” Amen.