Some thoughts from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6:
People were following Jesus because they were being healed and fed and had high hopes that their fortunes would soon be restored under his leadership. In other words, they were following him for his “stuff.” They responded to him because of what he could do for them. Maybe that’s why Jesus sometimes told people not to tell anyone that he had healed them; he knew physical healing was only a temporary fix and that that kind of “follow-ship” was shallow at best. Eventually people were going to get sick again and die. Jesus wasn’t going to hang around forever to make them well every time they fell ill, and he didn’t heal or feed everyone who needed it during his ministry. His miracles were meant to demonstrate that he had God’s stamp of approval and could speak authoritatively on what was really important in life. He didn’t come to alleviate all our physical sufferings or to mitigate all of the negative circumstances in our lives.
Because these were not his goals, he was able to say: “Don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food [or healing or the restoration of your fortunes and power or whatever other “fix” you think you need]. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”
Jesus said over and over: “Are you following me because of what you think you can get? Because that is not what this is about.” In fact, just a few chapters later in John’s Gospel, he said very clearly: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” He never intended to offer a “better” life to his followers, physically speaking.
His hearers saw what he did and wanted to have the same powers to do miracles. They wanted to be able to fix other people and themselves and to make their lives easier & better. Again, Jesus turned them aside and said, “No, you’re not doing that. I told you that’s not the point. Suffering happens to everybody, regardless of whether you are a God-follower or not. If you want God to do something for you, you’re off base. You have to abandon the notion that he is going to make your lives better in this world. Understand that you have to eat, drink, and breathe relationship with God. Believing in him, trusting in him, being in relationship with him is the only thing that is important. That’s what I’m about, and that is what I have to share. His life within you, transforming you, is what counts. That’s what he does for you. He is not here to offer the temporary fixes you are so desperate for.”
Their response: “If you aren’t going to do tangible things for us or show us how to do them ourselves, then what good are you? Who needs you? Who needs God?”
“You do. I am your life. Take me in, and I will be your sustainer.”
Their response was to walk away from him when he didn’t meet their demands / requests / expectations (last verses of John 6).
If I am following God because of what he can give me (healing, a good job, a good family, etc.) and not because of who he is, my perspective is off. If I am angry with him because he doesn’t give me what I want [and am sure I need] or because I don’t have the power to fix other people’s problems, then how is that different from his contemporaries who followed him only because of what he could do for them?
Miracles in the Hebrew Scriptures served the same purpose. They were only meant to validate the fact that God (not what he can do for us) is what is ultimately important. Relationship with him is what matters.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.