We believe Jesus to be the Bread of Life – the one who sustains us in body, mind and spirit. For the next several weeks (RCL) we explore the image of Jesus as the Bread of Life as it unfolds in chapter 6 of the gospel of St John. With John we begin this exploration with the miraculous story of the feeding of the five thousand with bread and fish, a story we have known since Sunday School, and have heard most years since. Some understand Jesus to have had magical powers in almost action hero like adventures and yet others see it as all symbolism. For me it is not either/or but both about physical powerful presence and symbolism.
While the exact detail of the feeding of so many is probably lost to us in time almost surely some amazingly wonderful and unusual event of gathering and feeding happened in which those of his time and since have also seen great symbolism about the true nature of Jesus and his life and importance as the fullest expression of God. We have weeks to explore the symbolism of Jesus as Bread of Life and all the wonderful Old Testament echoes of Moses and Elijah and Elisha. But our wonderful psalm and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this week (RCL 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18, Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21) gives us a wonderful beginning emphasis on the original blessing that informs all creation – God as generous, gracious, generative impulse – and that power surges through us and all creation. In the beginning was the Word of God and it was generous and abundant and loving and this is what we are all made of. And this generous beginning continues to run through creation even now, or as the psalmist says it “The eyes of all look to you in hope; and you give them their food in due season; you open wide your hand: and fill all things living with your bounteous gift”.
Along with all the beautiful poetic singing of God’s praises we should not ignore the obvious – the physical blessing of being well fed and of coming together as community to eat. And while most of us here can take for granted being well fed on any given day it may not always have been so – I certainly remember that there were times when my young children and I ate strange meals of whatever was left in the pantry at the end of most pay periods. And it is not so for many in our community. The pandemic has made us very aware of what a blessing it is to gather as community to eat and share in the blessings of sustaining words, sacred bread and shared refreshments.
Depending where we live most of us, even in wealthy western nations, live in countries where some of our neighbours experience physical hunger. As many as one in ten here in Australian seek assistance with food relief every year. Even conservative government web sites place the figure at 5% of the population who experience food insecurity including having to regularly miss meals. So let us not overlook the obvious as well as the spiritual in our story this week as even in our affluent society it provokes a strong image of being starved for all the good things in life – food, shelter, love, community – and having those needs met by a generous God and followers of Christ.
It is why we not only seek to save disembodied souls with words of wisdom but are called to meet people in their real lives including responding to physical needs such as for food. The human soul starves for so much. Many of us will belong to churches and faith networks that seek to meet a variety of human need including but not only food and shelter. Educational and sporting opportunities for children, support dogs, legal representation, art therapy, English as second language classes, community organisation and empowerment etc all can be loving responses to hunger.
We should never overlook the significance of Jesus feeding those who in his day did not have much – including often not enough of food, of social value, or even of religious value in the eyes of the righteous. He fed them with bread, with fish, with words of life and encouraged them to find an even deeper hunger and to look to God to receive all that they needed. And he ate with those society did not think important as one with them and one for them. Dorothy Day said: “The gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving.” Even more provocatively she also said: “To feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the harbourless without also trying to change the social order so that people can feed, clothe and shelter themselves is just to apply palliatives. It is to show a lack of faith in one’s fellows, their responsibility as children of God, heirs of heaven.” We may begin in Christian charity but we need to grow into social justice if we are to honour how Jesus understood hunger.
And we need to acknowledge that we are not only the providers for others out of our plenty but that we too are hungry souls needing company, encouragement, justice, challenge and acknowledgement as valued guests and family members. For many of us are simultaneously both hungry and possessing bread to share. We like those first disciples are both hungry and charged with feeding others.
And as St Paul reminds us we all belong to the one family on earth and we all look to the same source for our needs being met abundantly. Which is the humble and hopeful place we find ourselves in gathered around the altar with hands out for our daily bread; which is the grateful place we find ourselves after church with hands wrapped around a cup of tea or coffee; and the beautiful and sometimes demanding place we find ourselves in while sitting with our struggling neighbour. So as we begin this time of exploring Jesus as the Bread of life let us acknowledge the physical reality of our hunger and the blessings that are so richly given to us for our pleasure and the joy of others. And let us give thanks for the power of the spirit of God which strengthens our inner being and has us putting our roots down into the love of God from which we draw our strength and inspiration for every aspect of our daily life.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come bless our hunger so that we may seek you even more passionately.