The Gift or the Giver?

Being retired and therefore no longer required to produce a new sermon every week I thought I would try sharing some thoughts on the Gospel passage set for the coming Sunday, in the hope they might prove useful to hard-pressed preachers, Bible Study leaders or just anybody who wants to reflect on the lectionary readings.

So here is a thought taken from the Gospel for Sunday 1st August (Trinity 9): John 6.24-35.

Jesus has fed the five thousand and then disappeared up a mountain to escape from the crowds who would otherwise have attempted to make him king by force. Eventually the crowds catch up with him. He rebukes them for failing to understand that the miracle of the loaves and fish was meant to be a sign and not just a free lunch. It was supposed to make them ask questions about who this could possibly be who turns one boy’s picnic into a feast for a multitude.

Incredibly, they respond to Jesus’ rebuke by asking for… a sign!  They have comprehensively missed the point. If it weren’t rather sad, this would actually be funny.

They go on to talk about Moses and the gift of manna in the wilderness. Maybe they’re hinting that Jesus’ provision of just one meal is not that impressive compared to Moses providing food every day for forty years.

But Jesus takes their reference to Moses and turns it inside out:

It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

John 6.32

In this one sentence he does three things. He shifts their focus from Moses to God, from the past to the present, and from mere bread to “the true bread”:

… the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

They like that idea – maybe it sounds to them as if Jesus is offering to do again what Moses did. So they respond:

Sir, give us this bread always.

Again, they’ve missed the point. He is not talking about mere physical food but something much bigger, more significant, more profoundly satisfying:

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’.

He is talking about himself.

It’s not only his first hearers who misunderstood Jesus. At this point it’s easy for us to misunderstand him too. Here is James Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to inland China, commenting on this passage:

Do not change the Saviour’s words… It is not “Whosoever has drunk”, but “Whosoever drinketh”. It is not of one isolated draught He speaks, or even of many, but of the continuous habit of the soul. Thus in John 6.35 the full meaning is, “He who is habitually coming to me shall by no means hunger, and he who is believing on me shall by no means thirst”. Where many of us err is in leaving our drinking in the past, while our thirst continues present. What we need is to be drinking – yes, thankful for the occasion which drives us to drink ever more deeply of the Living Water.

Dr & Mrs Howard Taylor, Biography of James Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor is drawing out the meaning of the Greek present continuous tense. This is not a one-off event: pray the sinner’s prayer and all your problems are sorted forever. No, this is an ongoing, growing, ever-deepening relationship and experience.

Our continual temptation is to want the gifts more than the giver. Jesus tells us that what we need is the giver, and the gifts will follow.

(If you think this post is helpful, please share it with anybody you think might be interested.)

Published by markphilps

Came to faith at university while studying Russian. Brief career with the BBC. Married to Caroline. Ordained in the Church of England. Thirty-five years in parish ministry. Now retired and doing some writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: