Have you ever heard the expression "He missed the boat"?
This phrase is generally used to express one of two things. Either someone has missed out on an opportunity, such as "we thought we had enough time to purchase football tickets, so we waited a few hours. As a result, we missed the boat and couldn't get tickets."
Or, it's used to describe a case where someone just isn't grasping a concept or fact, such as "I was trying to explain why we shouldn't leave the car outside during a hail storm, but he clearly missed the boat, and we ended up with hail damage."
In our Gospel today, this concept of "missing the boat" is something that happens with the crowd. They very much "miss the boat." It begins in a rather literal way - they knew there was only one boat. They saw the disciples get on it without Jesus. They try to find Jesus, and unable to do so, they take boats over to Capernaum where they run into Jesus.
And they start asking questions...
"When did you come here?"
"What must we do to perform the works of God?"
"What sign are you going to give us?"
"What work are you performing?"
The crowd asking these questions is the same crowd from last week's reading - the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
It is the same crowd whom had already witnessed a miracle. And yet here there were asking for a sign. Asking Jesus when he had arrived as he wasn't on the boat with the disciples. Not grasping the reality of what had happened just the day before.
Jesus, recognizing that they had "missed the boat" in regards to what had happened, doesn't exactly answer their questions. His responses do not fit with the questions they asked. Instead, he seems to be answering the questions they should have been asking - the questions which Jesus knew they needed answers to.
"When did you come here?" they asked.
Jesus responds, not be telling him when he arrived, but instead by explaining why they were looking for him, and what they should be working for. “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
They ask him "what must we do to perform the work of God?"
Jesus' answer is to explain the work of God: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
They ask him "“What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus doesn't point out that he already gave a sign. Instead, he points out their error in their thinking regarding the manna given: " “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
And when they don't ask, but rather demand, that they be given this bread always, Jesus doesn't say he will do so, but instead explains what - or rather, who - that bread is: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
How many times have we "missed the boat"? How many times have we asked the wrong questions - not intentionally, but rather just because we haven't grasped the full meaning of what is going on? When we lose someone we love, we ask God why He's taken this person from us. When something bad happens, we ask God why he wasn't there to stop it. Even small things slip by us without us realizing we're asking the wrong questions - we go to church and find out there's communion, which means service will be longer, and we ask why this has to happen on a Sunday when we have so many things to get done before Monday.
We "miss the boat." We fail to recognize that things happen by God's will, not our own. We fail to recognize that no matter what tragedy is happening, God is there with us through it all. We fail to feel his arms embracing us, giving us comfort and strength. We fail to grab hold of the eternally freeing experience of receiving the body and blood of Christ - the only true bread that can sustain us.
And we fail to understand the enormous importance of communion - of unity as the body of Christ. Communion is something very personal to most of us. But, we forget that it is not just a personal experience. It is true communion with one another. When we are given that bread and wine, we are dining together on the body and blood. We are in unity with one another. We are one combined group - one body. In Christ.
Our text from Ephesians today shows this importance, and yet we often cannot see that importance. We're told we're given people to guide us - that God has given gifts to people to help us. We're given pastors, and teachers, and people to spread the good news of Christ. And we are told that we're each given gifts to use to help others. We're told all of these things are given to us to help us grow up in Christ - to grow in unity with one another. And yet time and again we fail to grasp this concept. Time and again we slip into feeling alone, unneeded, unwelcome, unworthy. Time and again we are unwelcoming, or not seeing a need inside ourselves for another person. Time and again we don't see the gifts in others. We don't see them reaching out to us with these gifts. We don't see these gifts inside ourselves, and therefore don't use them to reach out to others.
Instead, we miss the boat. We ask the wrong questions. We ask God why things are so wrong in our lives, or in this world.
This week, I encourage everyone to do two things...
First, recognize that God has given you gifts to use to help others. And use those gifts. it doesn't matter how insignificant you feel that gift is - it can change someone's life. And it will go a long way into bringing us all into unity with one another.
Second, recognize the gifts God has given others, and be accepting of those gifts when someone reaches out to you.
Don't miss the boat. Don't miss out on the opportunities we all have to give and receive a loving hand, a caring word, a needed hug. Don't miss out on the opportunities to give and receive the good news of Christ. Don't miss out on the opportunity to be in unity with one another, helping each other and ourselves grow in Christ.