“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
I was thinking about this phrase from Jesus extended conversation, about his claim to be the bread of life, and I was struck but the challenging notion that realistically I don’t know what it means to be hungry. Not just a bit peckish between meals but the deep hunger borne out of depravation, the kind of hunger that a billion people suffer from every day in this world. The kind of hunger that many of Jesus listeners would have been familiar with in a world where there wasn’t a bakery on every corner.
How can I understand these words of Jesus about not being hungry when I don’t really understand what it means to be truly hungry?
Today I have brought XX different varieties of bread products commonly and easily available in the bakeries around us and I would like to give each of you one of these breads.
Remembering the origin of Jesus conversation we are reminded that Jesus began his teaching about bread when the crowd, which had been miraculously fed with bread and fish, showed up looking for more. Jesus response was to challenge them with what was truly important in life – not simply the meeting of their physical needs but God; and more specifically, Jesus himself as the one sent by God into the world for the life of the world.
So, here we are 2000 years on holding our XX varieties of bread and wondering what Jesus was on about when he was speaking of hunger and bread.
I made clear last week with the children that bread can be a symbol of life, it represents food and is a basic staple for many cultures. Without food we die. But does it mean when we hold this many different varieties of bread in our hands? What does it mean that I was wealthy enough to make the decision that I could personally afford to buy you all some bread today? What does bread represent to us who, if you like me, has never really experienced hunger caused from food being inaccessible?
I was struck as I thought about it that this bread, its variety and its accessibility represents not life nor our need or hunger, but rather our wealth and our predilection to boredom in this consumerist culture in which we live. It is not simple enough for us to have bread but we need bread made and packaged in hundreds of different ways to keep us interested in buying bread so our bakery industry can continue in prosperity.
In a world where only a minority have access to bread in all its glorious varieties that we do, what do Jesus words about himself as the bread of life mean to us?
I found contemplating this question quite disturbing. If in the midst of our plenty bread has become, even inadvertently, a sign of our wealth not of life, what has Jesus as the bread of life become?
I think it could be said that Jesus has become, alongside other religions and teachings, another product to consume. We have made it so that there is not one Jesus but many Jesus to choose from - many denominations, many expressions of Christianity, many ways of worshipping God - each selling its own experience of Jesus. And, like it or not we are part of that game.
In a culture of plenty where we don’t know what it really means to go hungry and therefore have lost sight of what the true value of bread is I believe it becomes even harder for Jesus words to make any sense to us when he calls himself the bread of life.
As a congregation seeking to be renewed in our faith and witness so that others may know of God’s love what do we say to the people we meet and the community around us when we share with them that Jesus is the bread of life when they too have access to all the bread they think they could ever need. How do we help others understand ideas of hunger and of bread as we struggle with them ourselves?
I suspect that we could easily fall into the category of the Jews who grumble about Jesus words because they are upsetting and challenging. Jesus words always carry with them a sense of offense for his listeners because Jesus speaks difficult truths about our lives and the world we live in.
Jesus story this morning challenges us to step beyond the narrow confines of our lived experience, where not only do we not hunger but we have so much variety and choice that food is an entertainment for us, and discover that the world around us really is a place of discord and injustice and inequity that is crying in hunger and need.
Jesus words which do indicate that ultimately he is the source of life, life in all its abundance and life eternal, reorientates our priorities and ask us questions like “what are you doing holding so much bread when so many are going hungry?”
For me this creates real and personal issues as to how I am to live each and every day if I am to faithful to being a follower of Jesus. Like any parent I want to give my kids all of the opportunities available to them in this affluent society but the question is which and what opportunities will I choose and how will my decisions build them into faithful followers of Christ. And, which of the choices I make will encourage them to continue to be enamoured by all of the bright and shiny things that they can own, and sometimes that I want as well.
You see I have come to understand that all parents in this world would probably have similar desires for the health and well being and happiness of their children. The same sort of desires as the ones that I do! I have also come to understand that these things are not available to all people and may not even be physically possible for all people. I am acutely aware that the amount that my family consumes in terms of resources is simply not sustainable if everyone on the planet lived the same lifestyle as me.
This is more than sharing in Jesus acknowledgement that the poor will always be with us it is confession that my personal lifestyle is not and cannot be currently available to every person who lives in this world because the physical resources are simply not there. Should I feel guilty about this? Is it a sin?
During the week I was involved in a conversation on Facebook about this very issue. How much guilt should we carry around with us? What decisions and choices should we be making to alter our lifestyles? How are we being called to live as God’s people with one another as human beings not just with those whom we are directly related?
By Jesus claim to be the bread of life I think Jesus wanted to help people move beyond guilt and into the promise of God’s love for the world. God has given Jesus into our midst so that all things might be reconciled through him and so that in knowing him we might know God more closely and God’s promise for the renewal of all things and live thankful in response to this great gift.
There could, however, be a danger in hearing Jesus words about him being the bread of life and emphasising that the bread that he offers is more important than literal bread. It could be misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is not concerned about people’s physical welfare. Yet we know that Jesus comes offering life and healing and hope so that it may be “on earth as it is in heaven”. I don’t think Jesus is unconcerned about the needs of the poor for food.
Rather maybe Jesus is challenging us with another dimension of our lives. Maybe Jesus is simply us all that the true source of hope and life for the world is God and not anything that we do. Maybe today he is asking whether we need so many types of bread to satisfy us and challenging our ongoing problem of concupiscence – like the crowd do we simply want even more miraculous bread. Maybe he is asking us whether through a relationship with God in and through Jesus we might find that we don’t actually need all of the culinary options and all of the toys we have in our affluent society.
The good news presented to us by Jesus is that he is source and hope of life for all the world – a gift of God’s presence and love for us and we know this because as Jesus says the Father has dawn us to himself. As with the disciples who followed Jesus so long ago being drawn into God’s opens to us the wonders of God’s unconditional grace, we are set free.
This gift freedom though is also a gift to live as God calls us – to live a Christian life of thanksgiving for what God has done and as witnesses to God’s promise for the entire world. This involves being challenged by the difficult ethical questions which confront in each moment of our lives as to how we are going to live. These questions have been there since the beginning of the church and as we contemplate what God might be asking of us this day let us contemplate again Paul’s injunction to the Christians in Ephesus:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Photo: Jill Matsuyama Creative Commons, Flickr)