We live: hungry people in a hungry world. Everyone is looking for something that will sustain and nourish their life, something that will feed and energize them, something that will fill and satisfy. Everyone is looking for bread. The problem is not that we are hungry, but the kinds of bread we eat.
Think about the variety of bread we eat at our own table: wheat, multi-grain, plain white; pita pockets, hoagie rolls, English muffins, French bread and Jewish bagels and Challah bread; And, oh my goodness, the homemade varieties we get: biscuits and scones, crescent rolls, pull bread, sliced bread …. Toasted, warmed, plain, garlic sprinkled, seeded or stuffed bread… Banana bread, raisin bread, cheese bread and don’t overlook all the gluten-free breads available in the markets. The list goes on and on. This is a short-list representative of the varieties of bread being eaten in our lives and in the world today.
In war-torn countries both sides are eating the bread of violence and war. In our country in the political world Republicans and Democrats, share the bread of negativity, hostility, and name-calling. In the social-corporate world both sides are eating the bread that objectifies and depersonalizes another human being. Many eat the bread of having to be right and get our own way. We eat the bread of hurt feelings and resentment. Sometimes we eat the bread of loneliness, fear, and isolation. There are times we eat the bread of sorrow or guilt. Other times we eat the bread of power and control; or the bread of revenge or one-up-manship. We eat all kinds of bread. The bread we eat reveals something about the nature of our appetites.
The world is full of bread and yet far too many live hungry, empty; searching what will fill their bellies and sustain them; waking day after day disappointed, asking God for a miracle. It’s a sure sign that the bread we have eaten cannot give real life. It is perishable bread that nourishes only a perishable appetite so it leaves us wanting more, more, more.
The bread we eat may fill our belly, may even bloat us but it’ not of lasting value – it passes through our bodily system. Not all bread is nutritious. If you want to know the nutritional value of bread, you have to look beyond the bread. Where did it come from? What are its ingredients?
That’s what Jesus is teaching in this gospel. The people have shown up hungry. But, just yesterday Jesus fed 5000 of them with five loaves and two fish. Today they show up and their first question is, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
They do not marvel at yesterday’s miracle and give thanks for Jesus’ generosity, or even wonder who this rabbi is. They’re just worried they might have missed the next meal, that Jesus started without them and they are too late. They did not perceive the meaning of the sign, the miracle, in first feeding. They saw just fish and bread. They either refused or were unable to see beyond the fish and bread. They are interested only in their own appetites and Jesus knows it.
“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill.” They are concerned for their bellies. Jesus is concerned for their lives. The people want to feed themselves with bread. Jesus wants to feed them with God. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” he tells them, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
The food that endures is Jesus himself. He is the bread that is broken and distributed for the life of the world. He is the bread that is broken and yet never divided. He is the bread that is eaten and yet the value is never exhausted. He is the bread that consecrates those who believe in and eat him – his flesh, his blood.
When we believe in Jesus, eating, ingesting, and taking him into our lives, we live differently. We see ourselves and one another as persons created in the image and likeness of God. We trust the silence of our prayer life. We choose love and forgiveness and reconciliation. We relate with intimacy and vulnerability. We listen with “the ear of our heart” for God’s voice.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells us. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus is offering us himself – the imperishable bread that nourishes and sustains imperishable life.
So, what bread will we offer our guests and co-workers? What bread will you and I eat today?