JOHN 6:35, 41-51
Drop by our house at about 5:30 in the afternoon on any day of the week and you will hear a version of the following exchange.
“Hey — Mom, what’s for supper? I’m hungry.”
I’ll then reply “Well, I don’t quite know yet. What are you hungry for?” I’ll open the refrigerator and scan the contents. I’ll try to overlook the veggies that have gone squishy and the left over containers of “God knows what” on the bottom shelf. “Humm,” I’ll say. “How about burritos? Does pesto pasta, sound good? Or maybe something lighter, like a salad?”?To which, most likely I will receive an indifferent yet insistent reply “I don’t care. Just so it’s good. I’m hungry!”
Hunger. It’s a terrible feeling really. I don’t mean that faint rumble in the belly that is quickly quieted by the granola bar in your desk drawer, or the handful of peanuts snatched while passing through the kitchen on the way out the back door.
I mean that hunger that seizes one like a wild animal that demands to be fed. Where there is an urgency to be freed from hunger’s grasp. A teeth gnashing kind of hunger. A hunger that takes you down deep into your body.
Few of us may have ever known that kind of hunger, but it is a feeling and condition that much of the world’s people experience far too frequently. It the feeling that gnawed at the kids, parents and teachers in Mtendere Zambia know. I asked one 12 year old girl what it felt like to be so hungry all the time. She said to me, “Hunger makes kids mean. They do things they would not do if they were not so hungry.”
Here in the US, statistics on food insecurity and hunger are alarming. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 2010, 49 million people were living in food insecure households. That is 14 percent of all adults and 22 percent of all children in this country are living with hunger. In communities of color it is even worse, 1 of every 4 household is food insecure.
And then there is this perplexing and alarming corollary that at the same time that so many are going hungry, we as a nation are wasting an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption is wasted each year, that is roughly 30 million tons of food waste, about 12 percent of the total waste stream.
So some are going hungry while others are stocking our oversized refrigerators so full of food that it is rotting before we can eat it. Our most basic need for sustenance has become something that either threatens us because we do not have enough or that threatens others because we end up hording more than we need.
But there is another kind of hunger that, I fear, is equally if not even more debilitating. This hunger arises not from our bellies but from our hearts. It is a spiritual hunger; a hunger for more than diminished living, more than a life defined by threat or fear.
It is a hunger for meaning; a longing for transcendent beauty, a hunger for the Holy, a hunger for what Eugene Peterson in his translation of the Bible “the Message” calls “the realness of life.”
But the thing about this kind of hunger is that we may not even realize that we are in its grip. We may have become so used to this gnawing feeling of emptiness in our hearts that we think it is just the way things are. We cannot conceive of another Way. And so we accommodate ourselves to it. We live a more muted, a duller life. We dream a bit narrower and laugh a little less. We expect little. And seldom even hope anymore. I even wonder if this gnawing feeling of emptiness has even made us in our national life together rather mean. Are we relating to each other in ways that we would not do if we were not so hungry? I wonder.
And if by some chance our spiritual hunger does rise to the point where it will not be ignored – it makes us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, somehow guilty even. We think “How can we be concerned about something as ephemeral as meaning and purpose and joy when people are starving?” There is real work to be done and tending to the cry of our heart is not going to do anything for the needs of a world that desperately hungers.”
Or will it? This, you see is at the very heart of the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel text. And it is a really, really hard thing to grasp. Jesus is insisting that by believing in him, by believing that he is indeed the bread of life come down from heaven, that he is what we need to satiate our hunger – well then, everything will change. We will hunger and thirst no more. Dullness of living be undone. Muted life will be no more. The fullness of living will dawn.
Pretty hard to take in, no? How can believing in him quench our hunger and thirst and the hunger and thirst of the world? Given the reality around us, it just seems a little too simplistic, a little too hard to believe. The crowd that day was not convinced, either. “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” they say. Implying: “He does not look like something from heaven. We know what manna is and he looks nothing like manna? What is all this crazy talk of ‘living bread?’”
I think, the tangle we get ourselves into, the reason why Jesus’ invitation seems so hard to believe is that we hear his words with our heads not with our hearts. We are so immured to our own spiritual hunger that his words have no way to reach our hearts. And yet it is specifically to the hunger of our hearts that Jesus speaks. We want to say yes to only that which we fully understand. That which we have evaluated is in fact worth the merit it claims. But that is not what Jesus is offering. Jesus is asking not that we understand but that we believe.
I actually prefer the word trust here rather than believe. And as it turns out trust and belief are used rather interchangeably in Biblical texts. I prefer the word trust because trust is of the heart not the head.
Trust is what Jesus is asking of us. Trust is that which will feed the debilitating spiritual hunger of our hearts. Jesus asks, “Can you trust me?” “Can you trust that I have something that you need for if you take me into your life your life will be changed by my presence?”
Trust moves us forward even when we do not understand, even we are full of doubt and unconvinced, even when the road ahead is uncertain.?Brennan Manning, in his book “Ruthless Trust,” writes “The way of ruthless trust in not an abstraction but a concrete, visible and formidable reality. It gives definition to our lives, reveals what is life-giving within us, shapes the decisions we make and the words we speak, prods our consciousness, nurtures our spirit, impacts our interactions with others, sustains our will-to-meaning in life, and gives flesh and bone to our way of being in the world.”
So what does trusting Jesus look like? For me trusting Jesus is trusting that God knows what it is to be flesh and blood and has infused our flesh and blood and all the world with the power of God’s living presence. Trusting that God’s presence surrounds us in each breath and each step that we take. That we can turn to God’s living presence for help, guidance, comfort and inspiration in every moment.
And when we trust, well it’s then that things really start to get interesting. As I trust in and follow this living presence in my life, I have found that the fullness of who I am and what am to do in the world begins to unfold. For when we trust, we start to see and experience all around us is evidence of the God in whom we trust. When we trust that God is working in the world and present in our lives then we begin to see God working in the world and working in our lives.
But there is more and this I believe is really important. I think that we have a tendency to split off our physical needs from our spiritual needs. To see the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit as two separate things. To see the secular and the sacred as distinct realms. But Jesus did not. If Jesus did he would have spent all of his time in the temple talking about a world set apart that some day the lucky may experience. Instead he taught that the kingdom of God is among us, it is at hand, and he went out into the streets and the back alleys, the fields, the sea shore and the mountain top to heal, and feed, to cast out demons and to challenge unjust systems of exploitation and dominance. To be the bread of life is not only to feed the spiritual hunger of the world but to change the world so that no one need hunger again.
In this week to come, I invite us to consider this passage in the moment to moments of our living. To listen and see if there is cry of hunger rising from our hearts. To trust the good food what it is Jesus is offering — trusting in God’s care and concern for us. Try trusting in God’s wisdom and guidance for us. And then let us pay keen attention to what begins to happen. Perhaps we will discover that when we tend to our spiritual hunger we find the courage, commitment and inspiration to tend to the world. To follow Jesus’ example and feed the hungry, heal the sick, confront systems of domination and oppression. May it be so. May we be fed by the bread of life so through God’s grace we may be bread for a world that hungers.