"Bread from Heaven and Something to Chew On" – John 6:25-35
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." 28 Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30 So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " 32 Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 35 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.
I feel like I’m supposed to wax theological about all of this “bread from heaven” stuff in today’s Gospel – about the difference between the worldly bread that perishes and spiritual bread that endures for eternal life. And I plan to. And I hope it comes together when I do.
But first, instead, I want to talk about these sad saps – these people who we’ve heard were like sheep without a shepherd – who keep chasing Jesus around Galilee. I feel bad for them because I think they really may have been hungry people – for food of the worldly sort, I mean. Manna. Bread. Cheese and crackers. Whatever. Something they could chew on and swallow and from which they could gain some serious physical satisfaction and nourishment.
See, last week we heard about the feeding of the 5,000, where Jesus fed all those people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, which he got from some boy’s lunch. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that no one else had a lunch with them that day. Jesus wasn’t preaching and teaching and healing the rich and the powerful, after all.
And I get that today’s story follows all of that, and that that mass feeding is sort of Jesus’ point: that these people had just seen him work that miracle; that they had had their fill, but were hungry again; that that’s really why they were looking for Jesus – so that they could get their hands on more of that grub.
So, these poor people come off like a pack of lost puppies, really. You know, the ones you’re never supposed to feed because they’ll just keep coming back for more? Well, I’ve always been a sucker for a lost puppy.
And that’s because they really are hungry. They really are in need. They may be pathetic, pitiable, and persistent – and annoying because of it, even – but who can blame them? The reason they keep coming back for more – even when they’re bellies have just been filled – is because they’re never sure where or when or if they’ll ever find food again.
And I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t what was up with the people who followed Jesus around back in the day. And, frankly, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ words about “bread from heaven” and “the bread of life” and “working for the food that endures for eternal life vs. working for food that perishes” sounded like a bunch of nonsense to those people, if their bellies really were growling – for real food… from the kitchen… not for this baloney that comes down from heaven.
And so, maybe it’s because I worked on today’s message while eating lunch at Q’doba and then breakfast at the new McDonald’s in town, but I couldn’t help wondering again about the privileged position most of us hold as people on the planet. From what I know and can tell about most of us here, our needs get met regularly enough. We have enough. We have our fill, most of us – of food and water and shelter and other basic needs. And we are able to hear Jesus’ words about ‘bread from heaven,’ and ‘food that endures for eternal life,’ and ‘the bread of God that comes down to give life to the world’ – from a spiritual perspective that gives us hope in the face of our struggles and suffering, doubts and despair, whatever.
But I think we forget, too much of the time, that it’s a unique privilege and luxury to hear these messages and metaphors about food and bread and then make our intuitive leaps to the spiritual things of God, as Jesus intends.
We are in a position to eat the bread and drink the wine of Holy Communion and let it fill us in a faithful, spiritual sense, because our bodily, physical needs are met in so many other ways. But that simply isn’t the case for too many people in the world. And that’s a fact we so easily ignore; dismiss; avoid hearing; neglect to address, whatever.
This is Psychology 101 stuff, after all. When someone is hungry – unable to consume enough of the right kinds of calories – their brains and bodies simply can’t function in order to work; or look for a job; or go to school; or do their homework; or take care of their children; or stay out of the hospital; or make it to church; or ask for help.
So this Gospel seems like an invitation, this time around, to be – or to find and share – real bread for the sake of the world. What if all we’re supposed to hear and do in response to this story is more find ways to feed hungry people? What if all we’re called to today is to love one another the way God has first loved us – by feeding us enough… plenty… more than we need, in too many instances – so that once their physical needs have been fed, their spirits might be nourished, just the same?
868 million people in the world are hungry – that’s 1 out of every 8 people.
50 million people, in the United States alone, are food insecure. (They’re not sure when, or where, or if they’ll eat again.)
Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger in the world. And 75% of them are children.
I read an article last week that said France wastes something like 55 pounds of food per person, every year, to the tune of 20 billion Euros. In the UK, 12 million tons of food are wasted every year. And, not to be undone of course, 30% of food in the U.S. is wasted, too, which totals something like $165 billion dollars in unused food, right in our own backyard.
And again, 1 in 8 people are hungry in the world. And I’ve gained 10 pounds since my trip to Haiti in June, and I take medicine to control my cholesterol, which has a lot to do with the kind of food I put into my body, and so on and so forth… It’s shameful – sinful, even – plain and simple.
We are in a unique, blessed, gracious, privileged position as God’s people on the planet. And I can’t help but think – and give thanks because – our privilege is meant to put us to work. We can use our abundance to share money and meals with ministries like the Agape Alliance, which we’ll hear more about today. We can use our abundance to give away food and gift cards to people in our community through the food pantry. We can use the luxury of our abundance to make choices that are better for ourselves and that will share bread – real bread and water; real food and drink; real fuel and sustenance and nourishment – with God’s children whose lives really will be transformed because of it.
And once there is food in someone’s belly…once a worldly, physical need for nourishment is met…hope might be born; new life may take root; second chances may surface. And then what God promises, in Jesus, will be realized. And all of God’s children can stop working for food that perishes…stop struggling for life…can begin working for food that promises eternity, and unending joy, and amazing grace in this life and the next.