My friends know how my eyes light up with food. Especially an opportunistic nibble at work. Over the last few months, I’ve gradually found out which kitchenettes have cookie jars, which fridges have a steady supply of communal milk, and which tearooms provide Milo in addition to the standard teabags. Working at a different hospital this year, one of the things that remains unchanged is the weekly affair of “free” pizza for junior doctors (free as in funded by our weekly contributions to the resident’s society). During pizza days, you have the biggest crowd of doctors you would find anywhere in the hospital, packed into a small room, looking hungrily and expectantly at the door. When the next person opening the door isn’t the person with the goods, there’s a chorus of disappointed groans. It’s sort of comical. One might wonder why we get so excited about this low quality, high fat fast food that we could easily purchase ourselves.
But it’s not only junior doctors and medical students who are attracted to free food. I thought this was amusing:
“…you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” – John 6:26-27
After Jesus fed a crowd of at least five thousand from the scant provisions of five loaves and two fish, everyone was impressed. They said, “surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (6:14). They wanted to make Jesus king by force, but he slipped away. The crowd, eager to find him, searched everywhere. They even followed him on their boats. But Jesus saw straight into their hearts, and said the above, knowing that they did not follow him for the spiritual bread of life he offered, but rather, because of the physical bread he had just given them. Later, he speaks about spiritual matters – about himself being one who was from God, about him being the bread of life, of us partaking in his flesh and blood in order to receive eternal life. The fickle crowd was now unhappy. They started grumbling and did not believe Jesus (6:41-43, 52, 60-61) despite having been impressed with the miraculous sign they had recently witnessed.
“From this time many of his disiples turned back and no longer followed him.” – John 6:66
Whilst we recognise the need for physical food, the worth of spiritual sustenance is indeed hard for us to grasp. Even for us today who have the advantage of the rest of the New Testament to better comprehend the symbolisms Jesus was using at the time. Sadly the crowd, so enthusiastic after the free feed, quickly deserted Jesus as they did not understand, and were even offended by his teachings. They stopped at the sign of physical bread and rejected what it was pointing towards – that is, the truth of Jesus being the promised Messaiah, through whom they would have eternal life.
“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?” – Matthew 16:11
This wasn’t the only instance where his followers were fixated on physical bread. In Matthew 6:5-12 when Jesus warns his disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees”, they misunderstood this as a rebuke for forgetting to bring bread. Earlier in John chapter 4, the woman at the well was also more interested in a constant supply of drinking water than the spiritual significance of the living water Jesus spoke of. However, in her case she recognised her spiritual thirst and even left her water jar to tell everyone about Jesus!
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:45-46
Not to say that food and water are unimportant. But what little patience we have for what is unseen. What little value we place on spiritual blessings and what is eternal! I suppose we’re often not so much like a merchant, but instead like a layman who is unable to distinguish an expensive pearl from a cheap one. How would our lives be different, how would we allocate our time and effort, if we truly understood the worth of God’s kingdom?