Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
We heard the story of the feeding of the five thousand last week. And now, and in the next three weeks, we will hear more of Jesus offering himself to his followers, as the bread of Life, and trying to get them to think about it. About the bread they need, not just literally. Sometimes preachers will do a month-long series about the Bread of Life. But you all are having the experience of multiple voices reflecting on this same theme. Take advantage of this opportunity to reflect on Jesus as the Bread of Life and what that means to you, and how you can understand that more deeply.
I have to tell you that whenever I read these passages, wherever I am, what comes to mind first is the communion bread baked by Zane Hoyt here at Grace Church. It is so rich and so simple at the same time. You can taste the love with which she prepared it and the love with which she has passed on her recipe.
There is a joke that goes around seminaries. It says, ‘it is easier to believe that the bread is the body of Christ, than to believe that communion wafers are bread.’ But with Zane’s bread it is not hard to believe that this is truly bread, the Bread of Life in Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s look at a bit of today’s Gospel. Jesus and the disciples have been trying to get away to get a little peace and quiet. But that is not to be. The crowds who had been at, or heard about, the feeding of the 5000, come asking for more. Jesus reprimands them, saying, “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd seems to want “a free lunch”, a respite from their daily struggle to find enough food to feed their families.
I think sometimes we do the same thing. We pray to God for help, for whatever it is we need. And we give thanks when we receive that healing, that enlightenment, that answer to our prayer. But we want more, more proof. That’s just the way of our spiritual life. For moments we put our lives in Jesus’ hands. We experience God’s presence with us in moments of need or moments of crisis, or in time of prayer, or when we receive communion. But then we doubt and say, prove to me that I can believe in you. Give me a sign. How can I be sure?
17 years ago, I had breast cancer. My closest friend had lost her best friend to breast cancer about 5 years before, and she was afraid she was going to go through the same thing again with me. She was a wonderful advocate for me, but she carried with us, to every doctor’s appointment and hospital stay, the shadow of death. But here I am, free of that cancer! 17 years in remission. I have no doubt that my prayers and her prayers and the prayers of hundreds of other people saved me from death. And I have no doubt about the power of prayer – to bring about healing miracles – and to give us the strength and the comfort and consolation of Jesus when the outcome is not as happy as we wished.
And yet I still want more. More bread. More healing. Come on, God, if you could heal me from cancer, surely you can do something about my back pain! But my body is not the only place where I need healing.
When Jesus told His followers that He was the bread of life, He was giving them a solution—not just for their physical hunger but also for their emotional, mental, and spiritual hunger. He offered them hope! For a future different from what they were living. Of course Jesus offered bread -and fish -to the multitudes of people that had followed him to that hillside spot far away from any town. They were not rich. They were not well-provisioned. They had followed him because they were poor; because they were homeless; because they were hungry; because they were sick – in their bodies, at heart and in their souls. They were oppressed; they were afraid of the Roman soldiers; they were afraid of the religious authorities. Life was not easy, was not secure, in 1st century Palestine.
Many hoped – or feared – that what Jesus was going to do was to get rid of the Roman invaders. Now that would have been a miracle! A bloody one. Most prayed that he – or someone like him – would rid them of the burdens of poverty – the constant aching, empty belly, as the provider of the family struggled to quiet the growling stomachs and fill out the bony arms of his or her children.
Jesus had already shown them that he could do that, with the feeding of the 5000, but he wants to offer them – and offer us – that and something far beyond that.
Like the crowd following Jesus we tend to say, ‘okay, you fed all 5000 of us with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, now prove to me that you will always be there for me. Just give me one more miracle, please.’
But Jesus offers us a much wider range of life-giving and nurturing than just bread and fishes. God does not work in us just by showy miracles.
Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
What do you think he means when he talks about the food that perishes vs. the food that gives eternal life?
We hunger for so much. Peace in our lives and in the world. Freedom from emotional and physical pain. Freedom from fear and from anger and from confusion and from uncertainty.
We thirst for so much. A deeper relationship with our children. Reconciliation with those from whom we are estranged. A better relationship between people of different cultures and backgrounds from ours. A healing of our planet. A world where salmon and orcas abound. A future for our grandchildren. But most of all, and deepest of all, a closer connection to Jesus, to God, to the Spirit.
We all are moving towards that time when we believe we will be eternally content and satisfied in God’s loving care. We believe and at the same time sometimes we are painfully unsure of that.
Of course, we are all living in this world now, seeking wisdom and guidance from God about how to manage the struggles and challenges of this world. How to be good parents and grandparents. How to be loving children. How to be conscientious stewards of God’s creation.
Jesus says that “the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What do you hunger for? For what do you thirst? What is the bread you need?