Food for the soul

Pentecost 10 – 2015

John 6:26-35 (Some thoughts)

Marian Free

In the name of God who feeds our hearts, minds and souls with words of life. Amen.

Bread comes in many forms

Bread comes in many forms

In our Western society in which we have access to supermarkets twenty four hours a day it is difficult to imagine being totally dependent on what we are able to grow for ourselves and, except for the inconvenience of increased prices, we have no real idea how vulnerable food producers are to changes in the weather patterns, to drought and flood. Except in times of natural disaster – when people strip the supermarket shelves of bread, milk and other staples – we have no shortage of bread. Even then, most Australian suburbs boast more than one bakery that even in times of crisis can usually produce fresh bread each morning.

Today, in the West, we have a huge range of foods available to us and we know far more about nutrition than any generation before us, yet we still speak of bread as the “staff of life”. When we stock up on basics we still include quantities of bread because bread is filling and can be used in a variety of ways. Sandwiches can be built on simple spreads or extravagant fillings. Bread comes in a huge variety of forms, shapes and sizes. It fills lunch boxes, accompanies hearty soups, it is eaten on its own or as a accompaniment to a meal, it can be dipped in oil or smeared with honey, it can be toasted or fresh and used to make deserts as well as savoury dishes. The possibilities that a simple loaf of bread provides are seemingly endless.

The ability to grow rather than gather one’s food changed society from one that was always on the move to one that could settle down. Settling down in turn meant not only a need for more social controls but also to the stratification of society. Generally speaking, the vast majority of people existed at a subsistence level in order to feed the rich and powerful who made up a very small percentage of the population. Land was appropriated to feed the growing populations of the cities. This in turn, created a group of people who lacked the means to grow food for themselves and who were forced to hire themselves out as day-labourers, entirely dependent on others for their “daily bread”.

In the Palestine of Jesus’ day most people, including those with a trade, barely earned enough to keep starvation from the door. Their diet would have been limited to what they could grow, the animals they could afford to keep and the fish they were able to catch. Those whom Jesus has just fed with five barley loaves and two small fish, know only too well how dependent they are on the vagaries of the weather and how vulnerable they are should the harvest fail. Full stomachs and food for which they have not had to struggle is a miracle in itself, let alone the fact that Jesus has fed so many with so little.

It is no wonder that they seek Jesus. But Jesus is not impressed. He understands that they see only the superficial and that in seeking him, they are after physical, not spiritual sustenance. In other words, they have not understood the deeper meaning of the miracle that reveals who Jesus is and what he represents. No matter how much bread they have to eat today, they will still need to find bread to eat tomorrow and the following day. Jesus urges them to see beyond the external sign of the multiplication of the loaves to what the miracle is trying to tell them. He is trying to open their eyes to the presence of God in their midst. He wants to direct them away from their physical needs and encourage them to focus not only on their spiritual needs, but also on their eternal salvation.

Jesus points out that like bread the things of this world will perish. It is only those things that are not of this world that will endure forever. The things that are required to meet physical needs constantly have to be replenished, but the food for the soul – that which is required for spiritual well being, in the present and in the future – will be so satisfying that it will never have to be refilled or restocked. Jesus claims to be that bread, that source of nourishment and life that will so completely meet their need for fulfillment and meaning that they will never again hunger or thirst for peace and contentment.

For us, as for Jesus’ listeners, the pressures and demands of our day-to-day life can crowd out our need for spiritual refreshment and rest. The expectations placed on us by family, work and even church can claim our full attention and make us forget the needs of our soul. It is so easy for us to be distracted by the world around us – the world that we can see and feel and touch – that we can forget that for all the pleasure it gives us, this material world is limited in time and space. When it comes to an end or when our time in this world is over, what will we have?

While we are in this world, we will of course be caught up in it. Our physical bodies will require nourishment; our families and other commitments will make claims on our time, as indeed they should.

Today’s gospel reminds us that however much we gain from the things of this world, however much pleasure they give us and however much they meet our needs for achievement and pleasure – there will always be something wanting, we will continue to hunger and thirst for something more.

Jesus claims to be that something more, the source of a deep and lasting sense of fullness and satisfaction that will bring an end to all our striving and discontent in the present and assure us of life forever in the world to come.

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