Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst.
It’s not that hard to feed people. All it takes is food – Jesus proved that when he took five loaves and fed the crowd of 5000 – and we have so much more than only five loaves in this world – we have more than enough food to feed every member of the human family.
The problem, of course, is that freeing people from hunger also requires people – people to share; people to limit their own consumption; people to demand transparency and justice; people to use their power and their wealth with generousity and compassion.
Freeing people from hunger requires freeing people from greed and fear and self-centredness; it requires freeing people from sin.
And that is not something we can accomplish simply by opening up our collective wallets.
That is something that requires more than the bread produced by the bounty of the earth and the work of human hands; that is something that requires living bread from heaven.
And that is where things get uncomfortable for some of Jesus’ listeners in the Gospel of John.
The “Jews” of John’s Gospel are a specific subset of the Jewish people – they are the Jews who hold authority and power in the dominant religious institution of the day – both in Jesus’ day and then, perhaps especially, in John’s day. I am going to follow the suggestion of a number of biblical scholars and use the translation “the Judeans” rather than the Jews.
So, these Judeans want to ensure that Jesus is contained in the teaching and tradition as they understand it; as a rabbi or a healer or even a miracle worker. They are not members of the seeking crowd or of the believing disciples. They are comfortable and confident in what they know of God and how to be faithful to God – and they worry about what doesn’t fit into their system.
And what they know is that Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph; he is not bread; not from heaven – just a man from Galilee, albeit a remarkable one. But now he lays claim to too much – he oversteps. Let him feed every last hungry person in all Israel but he ought to leave it at that. Perform the miracle, give thanks to God, and go home, back to his parents where he belongs.
The thing is, everyone in this story is right. Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph. He is a man; not bread. The 5000 who were miraculously fed will be hungry again. And also. Jesus is the One who comes from God. He is the bread of life whose flesh is given for the life of the world and in whose promise is freedom from all hunger.
These two sets of truths are not as incompatible as either the Judeans or John himself might think (although I may be doing a disservice to John).
The Judeans seem to believe that Jesus cannot be more than he appears to be and that what he might be has no bearing on what he does.
John – or at least many of his interpreters – often seem to believe that what Jesus appears to be has nothing to do with what Jesus actually is and that his more mundane aspects are best ignored in order to fully benefit from the spiritual truths and promises on offer. Forget the daily bread and worry about the eternal bread.
Our challenge is to hold them together – not in a compromise, half and half kind of way but in a complete and perfect kind of way. John, to give him his due, does this in the structure of his story.
Jesus begins his teaching about the bread of life by actually feeding people with actual bread. That’s where he starts – in the miraculously mundane, attending to people’s bodily needs. But for Jesus to do something is for Jesus to reveal something of who he is – Jesus heals because Jesus is wholeness; Jesus teaches because Jesus is the Word; Jesus rises from the dead because Jesus is the Resurrection.
Jesus feeds because Jesus is the bread.
And so the teaching leads us from the feeding through the poetry of the bread of life discourse back to the miraculously mundane and bodily end as Jesus tells his listeners: “The bread which I shall give is my own flesh, given for the life of the world”. The metaphor once again is made concrete – or, better, incarnate – as Jesus points towards his actual, literal death for the sake of God’s whole world.
Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, is the bread of life come down from heaven, out of Galilee and into Jerusalem and onto the cross.
All for the sake of the transformation of the world.
All for the sake of the transformation of you and me.
In the Eucharist, we are all of us, rich and poor; hungry and over-full – all of us are fed with the bread of life, an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. We are transformed. We continue to be ourselves, born of our particular parents and from our particular hometowns, and also members of the Body of Christ and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, in that transformation, we are given a holy hunger – a hunger not for bread but for justice and peace and reconciliation. A hunger for a world of compassion and abundance. A hunger that is only satisfied when we follow Jesus so that we, too, can be the bread of life that brings life to the world.
Feeding the hungry is not that hard. You and I can do it. Which is a great and remarkable gift because whenever the hungry are fed, something else is happening, too. Feeding the hungry is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace – the transformation of our own hearts and the movement of the world towards freedom and righteousness.
Feeding the hungry reveals Christ in the world, just as it did 2000 years ago on that crowded hillside. And also – it gives people in need something to eat.
Both are true. Both are good. And both of them begin when we come to Jesus at histable and, receiving him, give ourselves up to him for the sake of the transformation of ourselves and of the whole world.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst, says the Lord. Taste and see that The Lord is good.
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