Scripture: John 6:35-51
The crowd that Jesus is speaking to followed him hoping he would perform another miracle. The day before, Jesus used five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand people. Then Jesus snuck away from the crowd, walking on water to join his disciples on a boat. Jesus and the disciples went to the other side of the local sea, but the crowd got in boats and followed Jesus the next day. They were looking for another miracle, maybe some more bread and fish, but Jesus doesn’t give them another miracle. Instead, he says “I am the bread of life.” “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus is saying, you think want bread, you think you want a miracle, but what you are really looking for is me. Jesus feeds people not just for their survival, but that they might know the Creator through the Son.
Here at the CA, a lot of people first come for the food and community. People hunger and thirst for food and fellowship, but that alone will not satisfy our desire to know God and our place in the world. We long for food and community for the sake of survival, but we also have many other needs that capture our attention. We might not be longing to see God feed five thousand people. We may be thirsty for God to show us a career path that will lead us to success and a meaningful impact on the world. We may be hungry for a sense of belonging in a community where our voices are recognized and heard. We may be looking for hope in a nation where power is misused. I think we all have miracles we pray for, ways that we want God to feed our hunger and thirst for life. When we pray “give us our daily bread,” it means much more than providing food for us to eat.
When we think of Jesus as the bread of life, it might be tempting to think of Jesus as spiritual food that fulfills disembodied needs rather than an answer to earthly problems. But I think it is no coincidence that Jesus says “I am the bread of life” the day after feeding bread to five thousand people. Jesus feeds people because he is the bread of life. Jesus cares for our hungers and thirsts, but they will never be satisfied. We will always be hungry for more. No matter how full or satisfying a meal is, we’ll still be hungry again in a matter of hours. It is not enough to find meaning by satisfying our own needs. We have to look beyond ourselves, toward the needs of others, and ultimately toward God. We were created by God and we will only find true fulfillment directly from God.
Jesus says he is the bread of life because as God’s son, only he can satisfy our existential need to find ultimate meaning in God. Jesus is saying that the only way our hungers and thirsts will truly be satisfied is if we understand our lives to be fulfilled in him. Jesus says that he will receive everyone his Father sends to him, he will never drive them away, and he will raise them up on the last day. In Christ our hunger is satisfied because it doesn’t have the last word. For as long as we live, we will have needs that we cannot survive without, but Christ calls us beyond our individual needs. Because Jesus is the bread of life, we can always come to Christ, we will never be turned away, and our lives will have meaning beyond our own needs. Jesus is “food” for us because he fulfills our needs, but unlike any other food the bread of life satisfies our eternal and existential needs.
This might seem pretty philosophical, but I hope to make clear that having faith in Jesus as the bread of life changes the way we approach our other needs. First, it puts our needs in perspective. Our hunger and thirst do not provide ultimate meaning beyond survival. Second, the bread of life uses our hunger and thirst to call us beyond our own needs. While hunger itself does not give our lives meaning, it make us aware of our dependence on God and each other, pointing us toward dependence on God. This is part of why Jesus feeds the five thousand, to call attention to what God has done. Jesus feeds people so that the crowd may see and believe that he is the bread of life. Jesus also compares himself to the manna that came from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness. Just as manna sustained the people of Israel when nothing else could, Jesus, the bread of life, gives our lives meaning beyond our needs and limits. Our hunger for food shows our dependence on the earth, farmers, and the environment, each of them calling us beyond self-sufficiency and toward dependence of God in Christ.
Every Wednesday night at the CA we share an experience of what it means to receive Jesus as the bread of life. When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” he calls us from the meal we just shared to the meal we are about to share. Much like when Jesus feeds the 5000, we share a meal together. While this meal satisfies our hunger for food and community, the meal we had anticipates the meal we are about to have, communion, sometimes called the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving.” The Eucharist is a celebration of Christ as the bread of life, that Christ’s life was given for the world and we share in Christ’s life in gratitude. In gratitude, we give our lives for the world as an extension of Jesus’s work. This is why the church is sometimes called the body of Christ. Martin Luther once described eating the Eucharist like a wolf that devoured a sheep, but the sheep was so powerful that it turned the wolf into a sheep. The bread of life is food for us that turns us back toward the world that we might feed others.
As followers of Christ, we meet other’s needs, feeding the hungry as Christ did. Sometimes we feed the hungry on Wednesday nights, but we also look beyond our community. We may not feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish, but at the CA we serve at places like Broad Street Ministries and UniLU’s Feast Incarnate. When we feed others, we not only meet immediate needs but extend Christ’s invitation to receive the bread of life to others as we have received it from Christ.
Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” He is food for us and for others. He is food that satisfies a hunger for meaning that could only be satisfied by God. This calls us beyond our own needs into community as the body of Christ, turning our hungers and needs into symbols of desire for God.