I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Call it Jesuscare. Truly universal healthcare, Godâ€™s way. Itâ€™s a hard sell today. Hard sell for Jesus. Hard sell for Moses. People hungry. Jobless. Homeless. Hopelessly despondent:
If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
Yes, the Israelites had food in Egypt. But it did not come abundantly, rationed by their masters. Yes, the Israelites had jobs in Egypt. But they did not work them freely, captive to their masters. Yes, the Israelites had shelter in Egypt. But the homes were not theirs, borrowed from their masters. Yes, the Israelites had a future in Egypt. But it was not their own, stipulated by their masters.
Yes, much was provided for the Israelites enslaved, captive in Egypt. And yes, the road to freedom in the Promised Land was through a wilderness of uncertainty and instability. Hard hardships. But change on so grand a scale â€” movement forward toward greater freedom â€” does not, will not, likely cannot come in all its fullness apart from lifeâ€™s crucible.
Though, we certainly want it to.
It is so much more pleasant to have our fill. And want more of it. So much more alluring to receive a break. Than it is to give one. So much more thrilling to live life large, with great opulence. Than it is to experience humble but enduring satisfaction.
Jesus names the impulse. The crowd had had its fill. Five thousand fed to the brim with twelve baskets of leftovers. A feast of epic proportion. Yet, in all the revelry few noticed that the feast had come from but five small barley loaves and two scant fish. The food of common folk. Not the bountiful banquet tables of ancient Israelâ€™s super elite. Or, in the case of the even more ancient Israelites, Egyptâ€™s Pharaoh and his religious, economic and cultural consultants.
Another version of the wilderness story (Numbers 11) puts the malady in starker relief than the one read today. The Israelites pine for Egyptâ€™s large store houses of produce, a cornucopia of flavorful leeks and garlic, and the richness of finest fish and meats, and, we imagine, good drink.
God provides in the wilderness, yet the Israelites are not satisfied. Which makes Jesusâ€™ pressing crowdâ€™s manna-in-the-wilderness citation all the more insulting as they recall of Moses, (at least) â€śHe gave them bread from heaven to eat.â€ť
The crowdâ€™s ancestors wanted more food than this. And so too, it turns out, do they. And so, dear friends, so often, so very often â€” far too often â€” do we. Our cravings for more are not lost on Jesus: â€śVery truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.â€ť
In the kingdom of heaven more for those with plenty is not Godâ€™s way. The way of God in Christ Jesus is not â€śhoarding private treasure,â€ť as the much-beloved hymn text puts it, but the way of giving and sharing, offering and loving. Until all the world is clothed and fed.
Which seems to be a forgotten truth these days. Or at least terribly underemphasized. So many religious people are so incredibly obsessed with whether someone or another is Christian enough, whether someone or another is moral enough, whether someone or another is gay or straight.
Last I checked, Jesus had but one question for Saint Peter as they sat sharing another memorable meal of a few scant fish at the close of Saint Johnâ€™s Gospel: â€śPeter do you love me?â€ť â€śYes, Lord you know that I love you.â€ť â€śFeed my sheep.â€ť
Would that the successor of Peter in Rome, his chicken-selling counterpart in Atlanta, and all others who want to pontificate about Godâ€™s will, would pay greater attention to it. They may be dutiful apostles, effective evangelists, but the body of Christ also needs prophets, and pastors and teachers to speak a word of truth in love: the true bread from heaven is given by God. â€śComes down from heaven and gives life to the world.â€ť The whole world. Never part of it.
Iâ€™m uncertain which bothers me more, the arrogance around abundance or the impulse to guard it. But this I know, the love of God offered to all the world is not something any of us deserves or earns. But is a gift of God without charge to any of us. A gift God shares with measure enough for all of us. With the crowd, the Israelites, the faithful of every time and place, join their refrain: "Sir, give us this bread always.â€ť
Growing up my parents insisted that my sister and I distinguish between want and need. Whether or not this bread, this bread from heaven, is something we want, it is something we need.
If we are to be Godâ€™s people in this world, then we need bread that gives of itself freely and abundantly, prompting us to nothing other than a thankful â€śAmen.â€ť If we are to be Godâ€™s people in this world, then we need bread that is given for all people, prompting us to embrace everyone it feeds.
â€śI am the bread of life,â€ť Jesus says.
We need this bread. For in receiving it, we are shaped by it, and will, by the grace of God, become it. Together, the church. The body of Christ.
This we know of the body of Christ: it is broken, yet joined and knit together in self-giving love. For Christ does not go to the cross for his own good, but for the good of others. Goes freely and lovingly, in order to hallow what few claim to be holy: to be built up is to give away; to grow is to become humble; to live is to love.
Thatâ€™s the thing about this bread. It does not seek that which is pleasing to it. But creates it. Creates love itself. In all it feeds. How true Christâ€™s words are. Eat enough of this bread. And no one will ever be hungry. Drink enough of this cup. And no one will ever be thirsty.
Itâ€™s quite the feast â€” the feast of heaven!
Eat, drink. And, dear friends, be merry.