I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness
and they died . . .
Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
John is more of a mystical poem than a biography.
John skips the story of Jesus instituting the Eucharist
at the Last Supper.
Instead he gives us this poetic account
of what the Eucharist means.
It comes right after the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus had spent a long, hot day in a loud, dirty crowd.
They were needy, demanding, and desperate for miracles.
By 3 o’clock, Jesus was like an exhausted ER nurse,
so he slipped away for a break.
No sooner had he reached his hideaway
than they were there again – 5,000 of them.
He rolled up his sleeves and went back to teaching and healing
until dusk; then they were hungry.
Philip said to send them away,
but Jesus worked another miracle to feed the hungry masses.
Then he slipped away again and took a boat across the lake
to the little fishing village of Capernaum.
Next morning, the crowd was at the Capernaum synagogue
trying to manipulate Jesus into doing
his food multiplication trick again.
But instead, he answered the hungry miracle-mongers
with this discourse on bread.
The healings and the feedings, Jesus said,
are signs of something deeper and more lasting.
He could feed them breakfast alright
but by noon they’d be hungry again.
He could heal their sick, but they’d get sick again.
He could raise their dead, but they’d die again.
It’s the second law of thermodynamics:
things fall apart.
The miracles are just band aids unless we go deeper.
The crowd is like someone who gets flowers from a lover,
and enjoys the flowers but doesn’t read the card.
All life’s blessings are just cards
inviting us to something vastly better.
The healings, the miracles, and everyday blessings
are signs that Jesus is giving us himself.
Jesus offers us his heart, his soul, his life.
That’s the gift that endures.
It doesn’t take away our hunger and thirst,
but it satisfies us in the midst of hunger and thirst.
That’s the opposite of the story of the manna in the wilderness.
The people complained of hunger,
so Moses called on God to rain down bread from heaven.
That’s what the crowd wanted Jesus to do.
But Jesus had read the story in Psalm 78.
It says, “but they did not stop their craving,
though the food was still in their mouths.”
Have you ever seen someone at the dinner table
fork up more food when they haven’t finished chewing the last bite?
It’s like that with all our projects.
While we are in the midst of receiving what we want,
our minds race ahead to what we want next.
That’s what Jesus means by food that perishes,
not that it goes bad in the pantry,
but that it vanishes in the fire of our craving nature.
Why do you spend your money
for that which is not bread,
and you labor for that which does not satisfy?
We squander our lives on if only’s.”
If only I had this job, or that lover, or this house,
or that friend.
But the instant we get what we want,
our minds race on to the next if only.
It isn’t just possible – it’s normal –
to be hungry in the midst of plenty.
But it is also possible – in Christ – to be satisfied
without getting our if only’s.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
St Augustine prayed,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.//
Instead of whipping up breakfast for the crowd,
Jesus offered them himself.
He offers us himself.
So, how do we accept the gift of Christ?
Ritually, we accept him when we eat and drink
his sacramental presence.
Spiritually, Jesus says, we accept him by believing in him.
But the original Greek verb translated as believe
does not mean intellectual assent to an idea.
I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
Big deal. So do the demons of Satan.
This isn’t about believing that.
It’s about believing in.
It’s placing our faith in him, trusting in him.
As the old song says, Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.
Job said, “Even though he slay me, I will trust in him.”
Back in my little church in Georgia,
we had a World War II veteran in the pews.
He said, one day he was pinned down in a battle.
Mortar shells were landing closer and closer.
Needless to say, he was praying.
As he prayed, he received a deep assurance.
Not that the mortar shells wouldn’t blow him away
but that whatever happened would be alright.
He accepted that.
Whatever happened would be alright.
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus. Only take him at his word.
That’s what it means to feed on him in our hearts by faith.
When we receive Jesus through the blessed sacrament,
we eat the bread that does not perish.
We lay aside the perishing bread for the living bread.
We were made for this, made to have Christ in us.
If we try to fill our emptiness with anything less than Jesus,
it leaves us still craving.
Why do you spend your labor for that which does not satisfy?
But with Christ in us, we can face anything.
St. Paul said,
I know what it is to have little,
and I know what it is to have much.
I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry,
of having plenty and of being in need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Paul had learned the secret.
In the end, nothing else matters,
because to have Christ is everything.