Why do we settle for less?
By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today
Which version of Jesus do we settle for? A wise philosopher? A meek and mild but constant caregiver? A macho conqueror? A divine butler?
It’s challenging to resist the impulse to settle for a Jesus who does not fully represent the Lord and Savior presented in the New Testament. Challenging, of course, but not new. Looking at John 6:35, 41–51, we see Jesus’ followers missing the boat as they long to settle for a miraculous baker rather than the Bread of Life.
In John 6, Jesus has fed 5,000 before he goes with his disciples to another town. Jesus calls out the crowd who follow: “You’re looking for me … because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They must have woken up hungry and realized that in this pre-Panera world, Jesus was their best bet for a good breakfast.
But Jesus knows they’re settling. Yes, he can transform five loaves and two fish into a meal for 5,000, but he is so much more than an on-demand food provider. Connecting with, but moving beyond, their immediate desire, he tells them: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” Jesus wants them to see that there is something much more eternal to him than they realize.
The crowd begins to complain. After all, they know his father Joseph’s family. How can he be the bread of life who came down from heaven? Jesus stretches their understanding once again, stating that anyone who believes in him has eternal life. The manna of their ancestors didn’t grant eternal life (and by implication, neither did the loaves and fishes) — but anyone who eats the living, heavenly bread will live forever.
Making sure that they understand just what he means, Jesus closes the passage with “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus knows about our tendency to settle for less. He wants to feed us with the bread of life; we’re happy to just grab some bread and fish while we head out to our day. He wants eternal life for us; we’re fine with some manna that fills us up for the next few hours. Jesus gives his flesh for the life of the world; we settle for satisfying our own day-to-day needs without caring so much for others.
I recently had dinner with a delightful octogenarian who had spent years settling. Dorothy (not her real name) explained to me that she grew up in a church that focused on Jesus as friend and companion, and that this prevented her from seeing Jesus as the Son of God. In fact, when Dorothy was asked to serve as deacon, she told the pastor that she couldn’t because she wasn’t sure Jesus was divine.
But a week before our dinner, she had gone to an adult Sunday school class on how the Gospel writers told the story of Jesus drawing on the Old Testament prophecies, particularly the suffering servant passages in Isaiah such as Isaiah 52:13–53:12. Dorothy told me that for the first time she saw Jesus as the Son of God, who had chosen to die on the cross for us.
I’m excited to see how Dorothy’s new understanding of Jesus’ identity is changing her life. Walking humbly with the Bread of Life, given for her so that she can live forever, is so much richer than settling for Jesus as friend — nothing more and nothing less.
Chip Hardwick is interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois.
• What is your favorite image of Jesus?
• What other aspects of Jesus’ fuller identity are you neglecting?
• What do we lose when we settle for an image of Jesus that excludes his self-sacrifice?
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