When I was a kid, I watched one of the few children’s programs available on our black-and-white TV set: Romper Room. The host, Miss Nancy, would turn her head from side to side, looking through her Magic Mirror (an empty frame, really), pretending to see all the little children watching from their living rooms: “I see Susie, and Bobby, and Johnny, and Julie.” (I never fell for it. But that’s probably because she never mentioned my name.)
Eventually, it was time for the ethics portion of the program. Miss Nancy would bring out a chart, with a happy little bumblebee named “Mr. Do Bee” on one side, and sad “Mr. Don’t Bee” on the other. Kids were taught all the ways to succeed or fail at being a Romper Room Do Bee: “Do Bee Kind” and “Don’t Bee Mean.”
But I don’t think we were ever taught, “Don’t Bee a Grumble Bee.”
As we saw in the previous post, Jesus made what should have been a welcome announcement: God’s will for the people was for them to believe in Jesus, so they could have the gift of resurrection and eternal life. It wasn’t what they expected to hear, and it wasn’t what they were asking for. So the gracious offer fell on deaf ears.
But not completely deaf. They did hear Jesus claim to be the bread that came down from heaven. And their response was not, “Wow, heavenly bread!”, but “Who does this guy think he is?”
The Jewish opposition grumbled about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They asked, “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son, whose mother and father we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41-42, CEB)
We know his family. We know where he grew up. Obviously, he isn’t from heaven. He’s from Nazareth. Where does he get off saying such things?
One can hardly blame the people for being confused. But it’s more than that. John says the people “grumbled.” The word is reminiscent of the behavior of the Israelites in the wilderness centuries before. God had rescued them from Egypt with an astounding and frighteningly powerful miracle. They feared God, and rightly so. But soon after, they took to grumbling: We’re hungry, Moses. We’re thirsty. What did you bring us all the way out here for, anyway? So we could die in the desert? If only we could go back to Egypt! Man, the food there was good.
In other words, the people weren’t just confused; their grumbling was evidence of their faithlessness.
I confess: I can be a bit of a Grumble Bee myself. Other people may not see it, but I know that I sometimes tend toward cynicism, and my humor can have a sarcastic edge. I want things to go well, and to go my way. If they don’t, well, I can be a sad little Don’t Bee.
The solution, however, is not simply to squash the bee. Suppressing our grumbling won’t make us more faithful or less cynical. Instead, we need to look and listen for what we’re missing, though we say we believe it: God is gracious and good, and wants our best.
When we truly grasp that, we’ll be less inclined to grumble in the first place.