Holy Hunger No More!
For the bread of God is he who 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 shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Few in America have ever experienced real hunger. When is the last time that you can remember being hungry? If you born during the "great depression" you may have experienced hunger from scarcity of food or money, but these days, unless you intentionally fast for either piety or blood work, you have probably never known hunger pangs greater than the next meal. Scarcity of food is so uncommon for most Americans that many are concerned about eating too much. We can only imagine what it would be like to have too little to eat. We know well that in most places in this world we inhabit, most people worry about where their next meal is going to come from. In the Gospel, our Lord Jesus speaks to a crowd about another hunger that results from a very different kind of deprivation. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.
Those in the crowd He spoke to had either been present at or had heard about the feeding of the 5000 that Jesus had performed, so Jesus was on to their M.O in their pursuit of Him: " you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." The crowd was concerned with the deprivation of food that causes physical hunger and malnourishment. Jesus points out that there is another kind of hunger in His words about a food that perishes and a food that endures to eternal life. Having recently demonstrated His provision of food that perishes by feeding 5000 with only five small barley loaves and two fish, Jesus addressed the provision of a very different kind of food: my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Thus our Lord leads the crowd to the consideration of another kind of hunger: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger..."
He uses His miraculous feeding of the crowd to help them -and us- learn something that He knew: "Man does not live by bread alone..." and so He leads them into the consideration of God's provision of a food that endures to eternal life. On the origin of that food He is clear: the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." "I am the bread of life.
We know where He is going. What we don't always know or feel is the hunger for the bread of God that he speaks of. That sort of hunger usually gets over looked or ignored in our preoccupation with the concerns and routines of our daily life, in which all of the more immediate and seemingly urgent things beg for our time. Food, work, recreation; all of which compete and prevail over the bread of life which we desperately need, so that our hunger for that which does not perish goes unheeded.
This brings to mind Jesus parable of the sower & the seed, and that seed in particular which fell among thorns: They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
It has been my experience that we can deprive ourselves of this bread of life for some time, and hardly notice the effect. Hunger for the thigns of God is not a "felt-need" and we so prefer to feed ourselves on the activities and things we want or we select...all of which perish. Like the crowd that Jesus addressed, we find ourselves too often concerned with the satisfaction of our desires for anything other than what our Lord offers, and think that if we seek just enough religion & church activity to help us feel comfortable w/ ourselves, it's "enough." But when we do that, we do so, we are no better off than the crowd that was driven by their desires, seeking Jesus only because they ate their fill of the loaves.
But our Lord reminds us that our real need is NOT for a self-defined or convenient religion. Nor is it for a food which perishes. We don't need to "go to church" when we feel like it, nor do we need any of the religious activity that makes us feel good about ourselves. What we need is not a comfortable religious life; we need the very life of God known through faith in Jesus XC: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
Jesus Christ helps us to redefine what we "need" by exposing our unbelief as the origin of all of the sin we struggle with, and with that exposure, He reveals Himself alone as the satisfaction of that need: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger."
Martin Luther once said of his dog: "O that I was as fervent in prayer as my dog is at meat!"
The only way we approach our Lord Jesus is through the recognition of a need that we have and that we cannot satisfy; a hunger for something greater and enduring than a self made life or our best life now. We learn in this Gospel that our Lord wants to feed us when our reflexive and default inclination is to feed ourselves with the food that perishes.
God's remedy for such a hunger is clear: my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Jesus sole purpose is to feed and nourish us with that life which is found in God. A life that results from His life-giving cross which restores the kind of life we were made to have with God.
Do we find ourselves operating in a frantic "crisis management mode" when it comes to what Christ offers and gives? In other words, do we only begin to see our need when a tragedy occurs: a lay-off, cancer diagnosis; accident, death of someone we love? Might we not be aware that when life is good, and we are finding a false and illusive security in our jobs and the comfort of our homes that we need the daily bread for which Christ bids us pray?
Few of us would think of fasting from daily nourishment until symptoms of malnourishment set in. Yet many continue to relegate their faith to a Sunday morning hour and a half exercise in religious self-management.
We find ourselves well fed physically, and just as well fed on the world's selection of bread which perishes. Jesus reveals to us a hunger for the holy, and Himself as the satisfaction of that desire. We will either attempt to satiate such hunger on our own terms, with our own menu, or we will believe and receive that brings an end to our hunger.
Beloved, let us beware not to mistake the good gifts of God with what we cook up, nor to attempt to make God's work into our own. Christians in our time have an appetite for taking what is God's and replacing it with our own recipe; mistaking His work for ours.
Christ clears things up for us: HE is the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, and He alone feeds us with Himself, for our forgiveness & reconciliation with God. His service and work are found in His living, dying & rising for us, and are offered to us in forms of bread and wine that deliver His holy cross and the forgiveness and life we crave. That is what we gather here for!
In the buffet of American Christianity, we can find all kinds of substitutes for that food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. A popular and nice religious sentimentality appeals to our desire for success and nostalgia, but it completely side-steps the awful reality if our transgression and the Christ if Calvary! Such a choice may well makes us feel good! But which hunger do we satisfy?
Our Lord offers something better and bids us come in faith to a table at which He presides. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. Amen!