Peter: You know, Deb, today's texts remind me of raising our children and how much we worried about food for them. I mean, when you think back on it, we spent a lot of time thinking about what to feed our children when they were young, whether or not they were getting the right foods and all. I actually loved making food for them, and I even did it from time to time.
Debra: Yes, you did-from time to time. What I loved was planning the meals and picking out all the right foods, getting fresh, organic food and thinking about some of our children's favorite foods. Of course, they didn't always like what I put before them.
Peter: Do you remember the first solid food we gave to Isaac, our youngest, and how he reacted?
Debra: How could I forget? He was about six months old. I really wanted to start him out right, as I had with our daughter, so I bought this whole grain rice meal for babies and we gave him a bite. Not only did he spit it right out, he started making gagging sounds. That's how much he hated that whole-grain stuff. Poor kid.
Peter: We were laughing so hard we were in tears. We didn't force anymore on him than that first bite, I remember.
Debra: He wouldn't take anymore! If this was food, he wasn't about to have any part of it.
Peter: Isaac has always known what he's wanted. Come to think of it, his reaction reminds me of the reaction of the Israelites when they first see the white, flaky substance on the ground. "What is it?" they say. That's what the word manna means in Hebrew. What is it?
Debra: Isn't it just like children, when God gives us good food to eat, we turn up our noses or even gag like our son did and say, "What is it? Oouuu!"
Peter: Yes, and it appears that it was no different in Jesus' day. Only the bread that God sent down from heaven was Jesus, but the reaction was no different. The people turned up their noses at Jesus, the true bread from heaven.
Debra: It seems we want bread on our own terms. The bread that we think will satisfy us, fill our bellies, taste good, like the Israelites remembering the flesh pots they had back in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves in bondage to the Pharaoh. They were filled with food, at least as they remembered it.
Peter: John is such as skillful storyteller that way. His telling of the story of the feeding of the 5,000 which comes right before this reading for today is full of allusions to these stories from Exodus when God fed the people in the wilderness. First of all, John takes pains to tell us that this miracle happened during Passover, which marks the beginning of the exodus and wilderness wanderings.
Debra: And the feeding of the 5,000 takes place in a similar setting. It is up on a mountain side-a wilderness setting-and the crowds follow Jesus into that wilderness just like the Israelites followed Moses.
Peter: And then there's this theme of testing. Jesus tests his disciples with the question of where the food would come from to feed all the people, like God tested the people by commanding them not to leave any manna for the next day.
Debra: A test they failed by the way.
Peter: Yes, but God didn't stop giving them bread from heaven, even though they failed the test.
Debra: In the story from John, the crowds keep following Jesus everywhere he went. They followed him, not because they saw signs that he was from God, but because he gave them what they wanted. They were hungry and he fed them. They wanted more of that fish and bread he gave them, not the food that endures for eternal life.
Peter: That takes me back to what seemed like a constant battle with our children to get them to eat the food that was good for them. They wanted McDonald's and treats, not carrots and celery sticks.
Debra: I think we ruined Isaac from the get-go, trying to foist that whole-grain stuff on him. I think he made up his mind right then and there if it was good for him, he wanted nothing to do with it.
Peter: Yes, still we tried. We never made him a special meal, as I remember. He had to eat what was prepared.
Debra: He didn't have to like it.
Peter: It just seems like an age-old battle. My mother tells me I was the same when I was a kid.
Debra: And according to John, God seems to have the same struggle going on with God's children. They want bread that will satisfy their bellies, their appetites-food, as Jesus says, that perishes. God wants to give them food that will last for eternal life-Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life.
Peter: I sometimes wish I could have been there to witness these conversations as John records them. Here is Jesus talking about spiritual bread, that he himself is the bread that God has sent to God's children for food that will give life for eternity, and the people think he is talking about bread that will fill their hungry tummies.
Debra: Yes. The sign they demand is real food-food they can see and taste, like the manna that came down from heaven, which, after all, tasted sweet, according to Exodus, like wafers made with honey.
Peter: Like baklava! Mmmm. I could use some baklava right now.
Debra: Peter, we're talking about spiritual food. Food that does more than just satisfy your craving for sweets. We're talking about food that lasts, food that gives eternal life, not just something to go with your coffee.
Peter: But it's hard to get my mind off my stomach, especially when it's growling.
Debra: But that is the point. The crowd worships the belly, as Paul would say. They believe life is all about getting their needs met, having pleasure, working for bread, having money to buy nice things, going to fancy restaurants, living in fine houses. Jesus is trying to get them to see that such bread will not give life. We worship God when we take in the Bread of Life from heaven-Jesus. When we pursue his words. We worship the belly when we chase after money and other forms of bread that only satisfy us for a little while.
Peter: But the people say they want the bread that Jesus offers, the bread that gives life to the world.
Debra: Yes, but they are still thinking with their stomachs and not with their souls. When they think of life, they think of the good life-life full of good food, good times, plenty of money.
Peter: And what Jesus offers is a bread that fills a deeper hunger-a hunger for purpose, a hunger for meaning, a hunger for life in the fullest sense, not just a full belly.
Debra: When Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry," the crowds actually get annoyed. We'll hear about this in next week's lesson. They say, "Isn't this Joseph's son? How can he say that he's come down from heaven?"
Peter: So what does Jesus mean-that he is the bread which comes down from heaven that gives life to the world. I know that humankind can't live on bread alone, like Jesus said, but neither can we last very long without bread. We see images everyday of starving people. I think they'd rather hear me say, "Here, have some bread" than "Jesus loves you." Jesus loves you doesn't keep me alive like bread does.
Debra: That is the beauty of John's language. How does Jesus give life to the world? On many, many levels. When the love of Jesus fills us, we begin to notice that some do not have bread enough to live, literally; and we begin to share our bread with others. We notice that there are some who hunger and thirst for righteousness, full of the love of Jesus, who begin to work for justice and fair treatment for all people. We see that there are some who hunger for meaning in their life beyond the pursuit of riches and wealth and material goods, and we tell them of the love of Jesus, a food that means we will never hunger and thirst again.
Peter: That reminds me of the famous humanist psychologist Victor Mazlo and his hierarchy of needs. Our first, most basic need is food. If our bellies are empty, we can't think of anything else until we get the food we need. And when our bellies are full, then we have strength, but we need some place to live, so we find shelter. And when we have food and shelter, we can look for a meaningful purpose or for meaningful relationships. When we have food enough and work enough and are secure enough in ourselves and our relationships, then we can search for a higher meaning. The bread Jesus offers can fill our needs from the lowest to the highest.
Debra: It brings me back to our children. That is why we worried so about what they were to eat. We wanted them to grow up as strong as possible, to have the nutrients they needed to develop sound bodies and minds, so that the gifts God had given them could blossom and grow, so that the bodies and minds God had gifted them with could be used for making this world a better place. We fed them so that they, baptized into Christ, could become food that gives life to the world.
Peter: All I can say to that is "Amen!"
Debra: Amen! Let us pray. O Lord, our God, we ask that you help us to open our hands, open our hearts to share who we are and what we have with others. Fill us with the food that lasts, your word, your body and blood that we may be strengthened to go into the world as your light. In Jesus' name we pray these things. Amen.