Sunday, 2 August 2015

Looking Beyond the Bread to the Baker!

 “Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10 

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B:

Looking Beyond the Bread to the Baker!

In our gospel this Sunday we read the words from John's gospel (6:24-35); “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty!” This is what John has been try to tell us. It is more than just a summary of the miracle feeding of 5,000. The reference to “never being thirsty” recalls for me the story of Jesus meeting the spiritually thirsty woman of Samaria at the village well (Jn 4:1-42). John doesn’t present us with Jesus-the-magician; John presents us with 'Jesus - heaven come down to earth', or 'eternal life incarnate'. It’s a sign that Jesus is speaking with divine insight. He’s saying, “Listen to me. Let me tell you the deepest truth about what’s going on here. Don’t misunderstand who I AM for you! You’re seeing the sign – but you’re not reading it properly. You look at me and see a miracle worker. That’s not who I am. I am the stuff of life, sent you from God! Don’t have your minds on your stomachs but look more deeply and face the hunger and thirst for Life that is at the very core of you. Then look at me, and you’ll understand!”

We live in a world where two thirds of its inhabitants are starving and the other third has problems associated with overeating. When Jesus speaks of being the "Bread of Life" in John’s gospel, and criticises his hearers for being concerned only with full stomachs, he is not spiritualising hunger, nor is he advocating a focus on the “spiritual” rather than the “physical”. John’s Jesus is, more explicitly than in any other part of the New Testament, God incarnate. The 'Incarnation' is about God’s entry into the human condition and not a flight from it! This gospel can be read to challenge the rich, the well-fed, the powerful and the “haves". Jesus is the "Living Bread" who comes down from heaven who gives and is the life to the world! “Ah,” you might say, “but what sort of life is he giving? Is it the life that comes from giving bread to the hungry, or is it actually some sort of other-worldly life, meant to be lived in another place?” The point of the miracle is about feeding hungry people who have no means of feeding themselves. Provision and salvation Jesus is saying, belong together. Feeding hungry people and enabling them to continue living is part of God's idea of salvation! God it seems is interested in the whole person.

The wonder of the provision of food from heaven as seen in the Exodus passage (16:2-4,12-15) is about God providing what is needed to sustain the life of God's chosen people. When the hungry are fed and the naked clothed; when the poor are given enough and the thirsty given a cup of water, this is A PART of salvation! It is not some sort of “preparatory spadework” for evangelism. And when Jesus feeds the crowd, they do not only have enough, they have far more than enough. There is “something more”. It is this “something more” that Jesus goes on to stress that is the hunger and thirst of the soul. In a materialistic age, this is an important point. And for those of us who are aware of the sense in which the gospel is the Good News of a transformed world order of justice and provision for all, it is important not to neglect this dimension of human existence which is about more than eating, being clothed and having clean water. The Incarnation is about bridging the “gap” between heaven and earth.

Our 1st world culture has been built so that our lives and culture can exclude God. Individually and collectively, many people seem to be cut off from God. The fundamental “gap” manifests itself in injustice, oppression, poverty and death-dealing power or sin. To talk theologically, sin is both a personal and a collective structural problem. The “gap” is the absence of the Life of God. In John’s gospel (10:10) the terms, “eternal life” or “life in abundance” is something we are meant to experience in the here and now. We are created for fellowship with God. Jesus - the Word made flesh, does not only show us what God is like but he shows us what it is like to be truly human. To be human like Jesus is to live in the awareness of being God’s child and of the constant, transforming presence of God in our lives. Abundant life in Jesus is a life that overflows to others. We are made for joy, for love, for hope, for laughter, for deep relating. Yet these type of experiences of God in Jesus and through the Spirit are so often ridiculed as emotionalism or unimportant.

We fail people if we do not recognise the reality of and their spiritual hunger. The signs of the hunger for the "Bread of Life" are evident everywhere to whose eyes are open. Look at the current explosion of spirituality in self-help books, new age psychic fairs, meditation courses and classes on eastern mysticism. Millions of people who have nothing to do with the Church are desperate to make connections with spiritual reality. And yet the Church often fails to help them make a connection between their own deep sense of spiritual hunger and Jesus, the "Bread of Life!" We stand by in embarrassed silence, while people who have found something of significance in the occult, eastern meditation, Buddhism, and yoga. I think the reason for our failure is that we do not recognise in it a mirror of our own deep hunger and thirst for God. We should examine ourselves, lest we like the crowd in the gospel, fail to read the sign of the multiplication of bread correctly. In reality we need to remember that we are nothing more than beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.

Often Christian churches can hold all sorts of strange doctrines and practices that can keep hungry and thirsty souls from life giving spiritual food. And the danger is that they distract and prevent needy people coming to experience Jesus Christ. They sometimes seem to obscure and “lose” Jesus! Our passage from John's gospel challenges us to do good theology. Good prayerful spirit-directed theology has to do with life – the life of faith and the life of the world. Good theology provides answers to our ongoing hunger and thirst for God. It is interesting that John gets the passionate about faith when he is at his most “theological” best – which means most deeply aware of God's grace! Because at the end of the day, grace is what this all about: a God who answers hunger and thirst with a gift that is far more wonderful and life-giving than we can ever possibly imagine: the gift of Jesus. This Jesus is not a dry, academic theory but "Living Bread!" And we are invited to come and eat and drink … if of course, we are hungry and thirsty in the first place! Amen.