Five hundred five years ago today, in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed west from Spain to reach the East. For centuries, the spice trade had gone overland from India. In hopes of finding a new route to India, some explorers were sailing south along the coast of Africa. But Christopher Columbus did not travel overland or sail around Africa; he sailed west to reach the East, and thus discovered a whole new world. Given the same situation as the other explorers, he saw a different approach. Similarly, where others see ordinary events, God calls Christians to see God's work.
Just thirty-two years ago, in 1955, a tired, forty-two year old Negro seamstress living in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give her bus seat to a white man. The bus driver ordered her to yield her seat, but she refused. He had Rosa Parks arrested. Some might view this as just the story of an inconsiderate woman riding a city bus and an overzealous bus driver, but Martin Luther King, Jr., saw beyond the everyday story of Rosa Parks's bus ride to see an opportunity to oppose the oppressive segregation in the South, an oppression that degraded the human dignity of both blacks and whites.
At a rally to boycott the Montgomery buses, he spoke of the incident's greater significance. He said,
We are here ... for serious business. We are here in a general sense because ... we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its means. We are here because of our love for democracy, because of our deep-seated belief that democracy ... is the greatest form of government on earth. But we are here in a specific sense, because of the bus situation in Montgomery....
... Just the other day, ... one of the finest citizens in Montgomery ... was taken from a bus and carried to jail and arrested because she refused ... to give her seat to a white person....[Kin91]
Martin Luther King, Jr., saw through an ordinary incident to serve God's call to respect human dignity.
Today's gospel reading describes a situation two thousand years ago where the people failed to see the significance of Jesus's miracle. As Mark Torrance described last week, Jesus had multiplied one boy's five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people. That night, Jesus left the crowd, but the people found some boats and travelled to Capernaum to find him. They ask, ``Rabbi, when did you come here?'' (John 6:25b, NRSV). Understanding their motivation for finding him, Jesus replies, ``You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves'' (John 6:26b, NRSV). Still unsure of Jesus's role as a prophet, they ask him for a sign. ``What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat''' (John 6:30b-31, NRSV). The crowd focusses on the food and misses the miracle.
Jesus calls for them to open their eyes to see God's work. He says, ``I tell you, 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 6:32b, NRSV). Jesus calls for them not only to see God but also to seek God. ``Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life'' (John 6:27a, NRSV). William Barclay writes,
It was Jesus' whole point that all that these Jews were interested in was physical satisfaction. They had received an unexpectedly free and lavish meal; and they wanted more. But there are other hungers--and these other hungers can only be satisfied by Jesus Christ. There is the hunger for truth--and He alone can give men truth. There is the hunger for life--and He alone can give men life and give it to them more abundantly. There is the hunger for love--and He alone can give men the love that outlasts sin and death. It is Christ alone who can satisfy the immortal longings and the insatiable hunger of the human heart and soul. [Bar56, page 216]