Proper 14B – John 6:35, 41-51
When my younger son was about three or four he came into the kitchen one evening and said he was hungry. I told him I was working on supper and it would be a little bit longer. “But I’m really hungry,” he said. Then he opened the pantry, pointed, and said, “Just open a box!”
Don’t you sometimes just want to open a box? I do. I’ve had those “just open a box” times in my life and I suspect you have as well. For Randy just opening a box was simply about supper. But I think it’s more than that.
“Just open a box” is a fast food way of living. It’s mechanical and superficial. It’s a spiritual condition. We eat but there’s no nourishment, nothing to sustain or grow life. We binge on junk food. Our diet is out of balance. We live hungry and malnourished lives. Driven by our hunger and emptiness we just want to be filled up. And it really doesn’t matter with what or whether it nourishes, feeds life, or satisfies.
That’s what the crowds in today’s gospel (John 6:35, 41-51) are after. They want Jesus to “just open a box.” They ate their fill of the loaves and fishes and now they’re back wanting to be filled up again (John 6:26). They ate their fill but they’re still hungry. They ate but they weren’t nourished. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).
Haven’t there been times when you ate your fill – whether at the kitchen table or the table of life – but you weren’t satisfied? You were full but not fulfilled. Haven’t you sometimes gotten up and walked away from the table thinking or saying to yourself, “I’m full but it wasn’t that good or what I really wanted?” Or maybe you’ve gotten up from the table still feeling hungry.
When has that happened to you? I think it happens in our spirituality and our life of prayer; in our marriages, families, and relationships; in our work and day to day life; in our search for meaning and purpose. What else would you add to that list?
Those are the “just open a box” times in our lives. And they always leave something in us and our relationships starving and malnourished.
Our hunger and emptiness are real. Jesus knows that. He also knows they are about more than filling the stomach. “I am the bread of life,” he said. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” Yes, the body needs to be fed and nourished but so does the soul. Hunger, in whatever form it takes and in whatever ways we feel it, is always a spiritual issue.
I wonder what your deep hunger is today? What is the hunger that eats and gnaws at your life? What is the emptiness that aches in your life today? What parts of your life are malnourished or undernourished? What are your relationships starving for?
And are you feeding that hunger by just opening a box? Or are your feeding it with the bread of life?
Those two options describe two ways of being and living. It’s a choice we make every day. We can either “just open a box” or we can eat the bread of life.
When I speak about the bread of life I am talking about more than the eucharist. And I think Jesus is too. I don’t want to take anything away from the eucharist and I’m not denying that the eucharist can be and is bread of life but what if it’s just one slice in a larger loaf of bread?
Look at some of the other ways Jesus fed and nourished the lives of people:
- He was present. He listened. He loved. He welcomed and connected with people.
- He told stories about life and helped people find meaning.
- He offered mercy and forgiveness.
- He was compassionate. He touched the hurting and broken places in people’s lives.
- He shared a vision for a new life and a different way of being in the world.
- He reminded people to not be afraid, to not let their hearts be troubled.
- He gave hope, and peace that the world cannot give.
- He reminded us that we are one bread, one body, and our neighbor’s life matters as much as our own.
- He was and is a good Word we long and need to hear. And as the poet David Whyte writes, “People are hungry and one good word is bread for a thousand” (“Loaves and Fishes, House of Belonging, 88).
Is that bread you and I are eating? We can’t get it by just opening a box.
And what if we are not only to eat the bread of life but also become the bread of life for others?
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” but is he the only loaf in the basket? What about us?
What if he is not claiming to be the exclusive loaf of bread in this world? What if he is teaching us is what the bread of life looks like so we can find it in this world, so we can become that bread, so we can give the bread of our lives to others?
Have you ever been given a starter batch of sourdough? It holds the potential to become bread, to feed and nourish. And it’s meant to be shared. What if Jesus is the starter batch in us? What if rather than making an exclusive claim about himself Jesus is giving us the recipe to become as he is, to become bread of life for the world? Maybe that’s how God works in the world. Something in us gets leavened, becomes bread, and the hungry are fed.
What are you really hungry for today? What hunger do you see in the world around you? And which will it be – just opening a box or the bread of life?