"A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that
he was doing for the sick."
The scene from this passage of the 6th chapter of John's Gospel reminds me of a scene from the movie Forrest Gump. When Forrest began to run and run and run, people began to follow Forrest. Perhaps they thought he knew where they were going. But Forrest ran and Forrest ran and the people followed. Well, soon Forrest stopped running and said it's time to go home. But I will never forget what one of the people in the crowd said-even though this is art imitating life, it is so appropriate here. The people asked when Forrest left, "What will we do? What will we do?"
The difference in this text is that the crowd followed Jesus because they saw the signs that he was doing. They followed Gump just because he was running. The difference is that Jesus never stops running. Jesus never stops healing. The crowd kept following him. The people are following Jesus because they saw something he did. They did not yet see him as a Savior, but they saw him heal the sick. They didn't yet know his purpose other than the healings. But then there are others-the folk from his hometown, where everybody knew his name. Where did he get what he knows? How could deeds of power come from his hands? But God so loved the world that he sent his Son Jesus that others might follow; and wherever Jesus went, hope, healing, and changed lives were sure to follow. Jesus left evidence that he had been there-not as bait but as evidence that he was on a divine assignment to change lives. He came to love, he came to heal, he came to forgive. This is why a large crowd followed the Christ. You see, Christ did much more for the crowd than the crowd could do for Christ. Because of Jesus people saw a man back in chapter 4 who had been carried by his mat. Well, they saw the same man carrying his mat rather than the mat carrying the man. Because of Jesus, a leader from the Pharisees came at night to see what it was about this man who taught with such clarity and such power. Because of Jesus, a woman got well at a well at mid-day. You see, Jesus was more than enough.
Before Christ, that crowd was void of meaning and direction. Before Christ, that crowd was up for grabs, but Christ did something that seized the crowd's attention. Christ did not leave them hanging like Gump, but Christ left them wanting more. You see, Christ was more than enough.
Christ healed a man languishing lame at a pool for 38 years, just by telling him to pick up and walk with what he had-his mat. The crowd saw this and had to follow. They saw lameness walk. What would happen if communities could see change caused by the Christ claimed by the churches where we worship?
A few years ago in the city of Chicago, a crowd of community residents did something unusual. They picketed the churches in their community to do something other than have church. They picketed them to be church. They seemed to say the Christ you claim and proclaim each Sunday seems more than enough in the sanctuary, but never seems to get out in our neighborhoods. Why are you open only on Sunday? Need happens 24/7. There are six other days in the week, but you're closed.
Isn't that interesting that the crowd would picket the church? But here the crowd is following the Christ that God sent to save. I believe the crowd in this passage was moved because they saw Christ doing something. Christ was being something in their lives. And when the crowd sees Christ doing for, there is hope. They will keep following. They will come and see. Because of Jesus, this crowd saw hope. And when needs are being met, the people will show up. Yet we must not compromise the Gospel in order for it and us to be liked. He prepares his followers to do the same. Sometimes you just have to move on. Sometimes you have to walk by faith and not by sight. It seems that God's will can still be missed even by good people.
Yet the need for healing never takes a day off. This crowd followed because it was hungry. Hunger is still hungry. Poverty is still poor. Abuse still victimizes and pain still hurts. The crowd is hungry for the Christ. Why? Because the Christ is more than enough for the crowd. In a land of plenty, many go to bed hungry. It is good that God's love is never on hiatus-even when it gets crowded. Maybe Jesus showed these people that there is never a wrong time to do a right thing.
Prophetic truth, like the immortal words of Dr. King, will rattle the cages of our certainties. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. once said that prophets disturb us. They challenge our creeds. They challenge our being satisfied with the norm. They challenge our rituals, and they upend our certain certainties and our time tables. We do seem to prefer profits rather than prophets. You see, prophets continue to push the gospel envelope. Prophets show us that Christ is more than enough, and prophetic churches change communities one person, one corner, and one block at a time-they see blessings in the blight. They see beauty in the ashes. They make certain that all eyes and ears realize that Jesus Christ is more than enough.
The people in this text come to taste and see the good news of Jesus. They will ultimately develop an acquired taste for this goodness as their faith continues to grow. They will sing, "No matter what, it is well with my soul." They will come to know that it is "no secret what God can do." They will come to know that Jesus is more than enough. Why? Because Jesus cares. The crowd followed because Jesus cared. Jesus can and Jesus is more than enough. They will know that there is more to Jesus than just healing. Jesus is a friend-oh what a friend Jesus is! Jesus is more than someone to make us feel good; Jesus is one who allows us to feel and see God. This same Jesus caused the bent over backs of my ancestors to sing with certainty, "Nobody knows the trouble I see, but Jesus." This same Jesus would later on cause a Sir John Newton to pen, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." He was able to see that what he was doing to the crowds of Africans; he changed to see that he was breaking up families and breaking up lives. And, instead, he saw the grace that saved him, enabled him to see the wrongs that he was doing.
And one of the hallmarks of John's Gospel is the notion of spiraling faith. John's Gospel highlights the confusion of those encountering Jesus for a first time, whether it's Nicodemus at night or whether it's Newton on a slave ship, whether it's a Samaritan woman at a noonday well, or whether it's the attendees at a wedding in Cana. They soon see that Jesus is more than enough. Even when the wine runs out, he changes water to wine. And we are invited to wonder as we look at this text why Philip didn't realize that Jesus could work out the details of this mass meal. We are invited to wonder how it is that they could not see Jesus right then and there, but that he would be more than enough when he said, "Sit the people down."
But who points the finger at our unbelief? You see, we have the Bibles now. We can read the stories, but we are invited to remember again that Jesus is still more than enough for our problems. Have we too thought that our problems are larger than Jesus is able to handle? Do we too know that Jesus is more than enough? As this text allows us to see, Jesus can feed the crowd. We are invited to remember that Christ can do more for the crowd than the crowd can do for the Christ. Yes, they tried to take him and make him king, but that would have made him king on their terms, and so he went away to the mountain all by himself. And when he was finished with the feeding, there was more lunch left over. Twelve baskets full. This is more than crowd control. This is crowd concern. Whatever Jesus did, God got the glory. He would say much later in this Gospel, "I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower." Could this be a message to our churches that our rituals, our denominations, our ways of being Christian in this world are not means and ends in and of themselves, but that God is still speaking-even when we've closed our Bibles? Jesus is more than enough.
Jesus is clear about the source of his power-it all comes from God! He knew his power; he knew his purpose, he knew his place. Instead of being seduced or angered by this clueless crowd, Jesus has compassion on them. Looking at the burgeoning needs of our times in our communities can overwhelm us, but we must know again that Jesus already knows what he will do. Life in and of itself can be overwhelming even with a relationship with Jesus. It doesn't have to be. When we look at the call of ministry, we are sometimes overwhelmed by the numbers yet to be fed in our times-spiritual meals, physical meals, but Jesus already knows what he will do-through us. He continues to ask us, "How can we feed these? What can we do?" Just to test us because he already knows what he will do through us. Capital campaigns can overwhelm us, but he already knows what he will do. Budget needs will overwhelm us, but he already knows what he will do. The crowds will come to see if this Jesus we proclaim is real-to us! Why? Because Jesus already knows what he will do through those of us who will allow him to do through us what he can do. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
A mentor once told me that God will give you as much as you can see with the eyes of faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. And Jesus' instruction to sit the people down, to sit those things down that seek to prohibit us so that we might see what God can do through obedience. We must sit the people down to make sure that they are in a position to receive what only God will do through Christ Jesus. Who is this Jesus? Bread when we're hungry. Who is this Jesus? Water when we're thirsty. Who is this Jesus? More than enough. Jesus heals, Jesus speaks, Jesus feeds. Jesus is more than enough!
Lord, we thank you for sending your Son Jesus, who was more than enough for the needs of the crowd. He didn't leave them wondering like Gump, but he left them filled with a meal sent by an abundant God, more-than-enough for our hunger, more than enough for anything we might ever need. Thanks be to God for a meal that's more than enough. Amen.