Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, our four Gospel books, all tell the story of Jesus, yet they each tell the same story with noticeable differences. The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are the most similar, while John is distinctive. As one source points out, "the first three offer views of the same landscape; John's Gospel seems to depict a different continent, photographed through a different lens."
Tradition holds that John was an eye witness to the ministry and life of Jesus. He saw his acts, heard his words, while understanding and recording with a different voice. John writes in long spiraling discussions. Only John opens his Gospel account like this, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, going way back to the very start of all things. John gives elaborate dialogues and a fuller telling of the miracles. He sees the majesty and depth of the task with a poet's eyes.
John's Gospel is a spiritual Gospel, not a simple account of the Lord's miracles and teachings. I imagine him as a deeply contemplative person, pondering at great length this person sent from God, highly inspired by the Holy Spirit. The words of John reveal how deeply he loved God and Jesus and invites us to share in that love.
Last Sunday began a series of scripture readings from the book of John which included the feeding miracle story. (A brief recap in case you weren't here) - A small boy's lunch of five small barley loaves and two small fish were offered up over which Jesus gave thanks, then distributed to a crowd of 5000 people. And they all ate their fill and they all were satisfied. Now today Jesus continues in dialogue with the crowd moving way beyond those five small loaves.
But first, a story by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn titled, "Sleeping with Bread, Holding What Gives You Life."
During the bombing raids of WorId War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, "Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow."
I have never in my entire life gone a day without food. When I read this story it touches my heart and reminds me of the fear and insecurities children suffer when they are deprived of basic needs. They were unable to trust in the promise of food for the coming day, they needed to hold onto that bit of bread all through the night.
Bread is perhaps our primary symbol for food, health, nourishment, community and life.
In your life, what memories of bread do you hold? Are there favorite foods or lack of favorite foods that hold for you an emotional connection? (My mother regularly baking bread for our family.)
Do you chose foods because they taste good or because they are nutritious? This past Wed. morning at Bible Study we had two plates of treats set out. One held mini cupcakes topped with colorful, creamy frosting, the other held dense, poppy seed muffins. I remember my eyes went first to the sweet cupcakes, lingering for a moment, then I reached for a muffin. Most likely if there had been a chocolate offering I would have caved in. I'm well aware that sugar quickly satisfies my hunger but only for a short while, protein sustains me a lot longer.
What are comforts foods for you?
Do we sometimes, by eating, try to fill a need other than hunger? Do you ever eat when you're not even hungry just because it's mealtime? Years ago, I remember when the family had enjoyed a lovely weekend camp out it came time to leave. So everyone pitched in to pack up all the gear and we were ready to go home. Just then Grampa Louie glanced at his watch and announced that it was time for lunch and he wasn't going to head out until he had something to eat. The rest of us were really annoyed but we searched through the cooler and made up a few sandwiches so we could finally set out for home.
For most of us we probably could tell endless stories centered around food. Here's some "food for thought" by Ann Lamott from her book titled Traveling Mercies. She writes of her struggle with bulimia and tells of her therapists’ surprising advice to "learn to feed herself." "Let your body feel hunger”, she councils, "then feed yourself kindly." Do we need to feel hunger in order to feed our bodies? Might this exercise lead us to a deeper hunger and a better bread?
Returning to our Gospel story, the next day, that is the day after the feeding, the crowd of people came again looking for Jesus. He said to them, "You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs and for free. Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that."
This is Jesus' teachable moment and this is the manner in which John reports it for us. Of course, that crowd of people were hungry, how far had they walked in order to see this Jesus who they've heard is doing amazing things? They needed food in their stomach first, then Jesus could move to the importance of food for the spirit, food that endures and nourishes forever. Material necessities come first and foremost, then we are prepared to feed our spirit. For people who are hungry first we feed them, then we offer a message of a good and gracious God, a truth they can hold on to throughout any dark and lean night.
As our text continues we see a pattern of question and answer what the crowd wants to know and what answers Jesus provides. Have you noticed how politicians use similar tactics when being interviewed? A question is posed to them and they don't give a straight forward answer. They clothe their answer in the political message they are supporting.
The people in the crowd knew well the stories of their ancestors eating the manna in the wilderness, and they ask for a sign from Jesus so they might see it and believe in him. He said to them, "Yes, Moses gave our ancestors manna from heaven but what's important is that my Father right now offers you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world. They jumped at that, "Master give us this bread, now and forever."
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." Jesus is no longer talking about bread, is he? He's speaking of his very identity.
What do you hear in Jesus' words, "I am the bread of life"? Think of what feeds you spiritually. How do we grow into believing in Jesus more deeply? Is it in prayer, receiving the Eucharist, music and hymn singing, in reading and hearing the words of Jesus in scripture?
There is both declaration and promise in the closing words of our Gospel reading. Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
Through any dark night we can hold onto that.