As the gospel for these weeks walk us through John 6, we can note many connections between what happens near Capernaum and what happened during Israel’s journey through the wilderness.
In next Sunday’s gospel (John 6:41-51), as the crowds grumble at Jesus’ words, we remember that Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness under Moses was no stunning anomaly. Grumbling is merely the audible voicing of the stubborn natural human heart’s ceaseless internal reasoning that’s never pleased because God refuses to say or do what our hearts expect or demand.
In John 6:41 we see the heart of what makes grumbling so toxic. The crowds here are not merely grumbling about rumbling tummies. They are grumbling at the heart of the gospel when Jesus announced, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (41). They were certain that what they thought they knew of Jesus’ humble origins (42) rendered his words an empty boast that would leave their hearts as empty as their stomachs were again.
What is stunning is not their grumbling, but Jesus’ patient response to their stubborn unbelief. After addressing their unbelieving grumbling head on (“Stop grumbling among yourselves” 43), he proclaims what they were missing. Did they realize, he was asking them, that, in the words they were so quickly dismissing, they were in fact being taught by God (45) in multiple glorious ways? They were hearing the Father in heaven tugging at their hearts to draw them to himself through the revealed gift of the Son who had seen the Father from all eternity (46-48). In these divine words was the power to rise up glorious on the last day (44) when no hunger of body or soul would ever again strike them. Because he was giving himself for the life of the world, all who would eat of the Bread of Life would live and never die (48-51).
This is recorded for us because Jesus isn’t just speaking to their grumblings, but also ours. Like the crowds near Capernaum, or like Elijah in this Sunday’s first lesson (1 Kings 19), our heart’s grumblings are eternally toxic. That poison is at work when our hearts begin to reason – for our own unique reasons – that Jesus’ promises are empty boasts that in the end leave stomachs and hearts hungry and disappointed.
Before ongoing rehearsal of our doubts convinces us that our ignorant appraisal of reality is accurate, Jesus still says, “Stop grumbling among yourselves!”
But he still does far more than rebuke the remnants of our stubborn unbelief. He continues to hold out before us the truth. Rather than being taught by the confused mumblings of our own deaf and blind hearts, he invites us again to be taught by God. He assure us that no one in heaven will ever be disappointed that they fed on what the Father revealed about his Son, the Bread of Life. Those raised up on the Last Day will have no complaints that they listened to him rather than to the ceaseless whining of their sinful nature.
Such is the love of the Father for each of us that in Word and sacraments daily tugs at our hearts. With cords of everlasting loving-kindness (Jeremiah 31:3) he draws us from the deceits of our hearts to be fed by the One who tells us nothing but saving truth. As we eat of him, we will never die.
So we eat of him! And, like Jesus, continue patiently to feed your hearers on him! Together for eternity we will laugh at the lies our hearts told us. But more that, as those taught by God, we will feast forever on his glorious truth!