"Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone--the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven."
That's Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor talking to Jesus (that I quoted a couple weeks ago). And I think the story in John 6 says something similar. It begins:
There was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.Jesus is bothered that they just come back for the food. He cared about their hunger, and he provided for their need very generously, but he does not want to become a one-man soup kitchen. He meant the food as a sign, not just another meal. And he's not willing to provide more food for those who are just seeking that. He rejects the "one infallible banner" of bread, for which the people will gladly come again and again. And here again, as with the devil, his response is that "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God":
...On the next day boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?"
Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you..."
They said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world."
They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. ...This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" ...After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
I'm not sure what this says about the work here (a work people readily understand and honor and support). But it does seem to fit with my growing dissatisfaction with the pressures and demands to "provide services." The constant flow of people just wanting food or shelter or money. And coming here because it's a soup kitchen and shelter, which are not about inspiring faith (or requiring faith of those who come, as Jesus did) but about putting food on the table.
Are we taking up the "infallible banner" that Jesus rejected?
I do still think it's possible to love people here in a Christlike way, provide "signs" of God's love, and I plan to continue to try to do that (and learn to do it better). But I also think the soup kitchen model is lacking, and I feel the need to look beyond it.