That ancient Roman writer, known today as Juvenal, described how the Roman rulers kept the masses content, while gradually stealing away all their power. What had once been a Republic had become an empire ruled by selfish, immoral, greedy men, more interested in retaining power and wealth than caring for the people under their rule. And the people themselves deteriorated into a populace addicted to free distribution of food and violent gladiatorial contests. They were so distracted by mindless self-gratification that they had become unable to think, unable to recognize any greater good beyond their own lusts.
I can think of ways this might apply to America today, as I am sure you can, but it is nothing new. Jesus dealt with the same mindset. In John 6:26, he reproached the masses who followed him like this: You seek me…because you ate of the loaves and were filled. When he began to talk about the True Bread, they left.
The Pharisees came on more than one occasion, and to test him they asked him to show a sign from Heaven, Matt 16:1. Herod on the night before he was crucified had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and was hoping to see some sign done by him, Luke 23:8. They wanted a show, a “circus,” not a sign that would produce faith. John tells us that for many of these people though he had done many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 12:27. Bread and circuses do not work in the spiritual world any more than they do in the physical. It may bring more in, but how many stay when they find out what is really required of a disciple?
None of this is to say that we should not reach out to the world in as many ways as possible. After all, Jesus did feed them, and he did do signs. But sooner or later we must get past the superficial and reach the heart. If my neighbor is in need, why not help him? When I take a meal to the sick, perhaps he will be more willing to realize that his sick soul needs food too, and maybe he will come to me to feed it. If I am part of an assembly that is open and friendly, that worships whole-heartedly and obviously instead of sitting like bumps on a log, perhaps he will sooner understand that the heart is not all that matters because he will more often visit and hear the word of God spoken clearly and forcefully. But we must sooner or later do as Jesus did and force the choice upon them:
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever, John 6:54-58.
And when they refuse to exist on nothing but Christ, then we must also do as he did—let them go and not bother chasing them down. They have shown what they really wanted, and spirituality was not part of it. God does not want people who are so distracted by mindless self-gratification that they become unable to think, unable to recognize any greater good beyond their own lusts. He wants people who live on him and his word, even when it is uncomfortable and inconvenient, even if it costs more than they had ever imagined. He wants a people for his own possession, who will give him the glory and honor he deserves.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, will you also go away? Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:66-69