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I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently reflecting on the topic of manipulation, and what is a godly way of handling it. I’ve been drawn to John 6 where it seems like the crowds, after being fed the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish, tried to manipulate Jesus.

After eating the bread, the crowds intended to seize Jesus by force to make him king (John 6:15). I’m not totally sure what they were thinking, but I imagine the idea of having access to an endless supply of free food was a primary motivation – especially in a society that is so unlike ours, where we take our “daily bread” for granted. I think that they also wanted to make him “king” as their Messiah, who was promised to deliver them from their oppressors and restore Israel to her promised place in the world.

Whatever the reason, Jesus responds to their intention of force by withdrawing up the mountainside alone. On some level, it looks like he might be acting cowardly by running. Instead, I wonder if Jesus is demonstrating that there are times, especially if an environment is abusive, that it is necessary to withdraw. To do so isn’t necessarily cowardly or weak. If Jesus continued to run away from these people, then you might be able to say that he was a coward, but later in the passage, he challenges them pretty directly.

The disciples head back to Capernaum, across the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus joins them, walking on the water. Meanwhile, the crowds, still looking for Jesus, eventually realize that he had slipped away from them, went to Capernaum to try to find Him.  (John 6:24)

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. (John 6:25-26)

Somehow, Jesus knew their motivation with definitive certainty. It’s possible that the Spirit revealed their motivation to Him, or maybe Jesus was just a really good student of human nature. Either way, He reflected back to the crowds what He saw in their heart. I think he did this for their benefit, to give them an opportunity to reflect on why they were chasing after Him.

As the interaction continues, Jesus ultimately offends the crowds, to the point that they start complaining about him to one another (John 6:41). Knowing this (again, not sure if He overheard it, or if it was revealed to Him by the Spirit) he very directly tells them, “Do not complain about me to one another.” (John 6:43) When involved in a conflict with someone else, it is our tendency to complain about it to everyone else, rather than to deal directly with the person. Jesus very clearly says not to do that.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that this interaction ultimately had a significant impact on His growing ministry (John 6:66).  Many of his disciples quit following Him as a result. Jesus tried to be a loving mirror to the motivation of the hearts of those who were trying to manipulate and use Him. Because of their refusal to look at their own hearts, and many of them walked away.

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