MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Bread for the life of the world

By Lander Bethel
Special to the Herald Democrat

What are you hungry for? Maybe that’s a common enough question as evening rolls around and it starts to get close to time to eat. Sometimes it’s hard say. Looking on the shelves or in the refrigerator doesn’t always offer up many satisfying answers.

There’s the daily grind of figuring out something to eat that, hopefully, goes beyond the utilitarian answer of just getting something into your stomach. There’s also the hunger for something more; the hunger for something that feeds your soul, that nourishes your life.

When we read a passage from the Bible it’s sometimes hard to pick up how the dialog might sound, especially if it’s where there might be a disagreement that we don’t expect. When we come to the story of Jesus’ ministry in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, shortly after he met a large crowd of people, and fed them more than enough to eat from just 5 loaves and 2 fish, it can sound jarring to hear the crowd challenging him to prove himself by showing them a sign.

Hadn’t he just shown them a sign that would’ve stuck with them for more than a couple of days? Feeding 5,000 people with about 5 bucks worth of food seems like that would be a pretty impressive feat. But they are hungry again, and Jesus is speaking about spiritual food. They remember the story of their ancestors receiving manna on their wilderness journey after escaping slavery in Egypt. The crowd would like to have bread provided for them the way Moses did all those generations ago.

Jesus points out to this crowd that may be getting a little hangry, that it was not Moses who provided the manna, but God who gave it to them. They want a sign, like some more bread. Jesus tells them he is the bread of life. They’d like a little proof, if that’s who he is, like some more bread.

When the writer of John’s gospel uses the word sign, he is thinking of it in theological terms. A sign is something that points to the identity of the Messiah. Feeding the 5,000 out on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee is a sign about who he is. But the crowd is still focused on getting something to eat again.

Bread is something that doesn’t last long. It’s something like the package of hot dog buns we bought not long ago. We ate some of them over the weekend. But several days later there was mold that started to grow on one of them. Short of freezing the rest of the package, we couldn’t eat enough of the hot dog buns before they started to get old.

The crowd wanted bread before it got old. They wanted bread before the kids started grumbling again. Jesus was offering them himself, the nourishment of the bread of life, the bread that sustains them for all of life. For him to change the focus of their conversation from bread to fill their bellies to the metaphorical bread that fills their souls, they’d like some proof.

That bread, he tells them, is the bread that gives life to the world. And then he says to them, “I am the bread of life.” It’s maybe a way of saying that he is giving himself to them. He is giving himself in a way that gives life to them, that offers them fulfillment, that satisfies their hungry hearts for love that heals; reconciliation that makes them whole’ right along with the ones who have been rejected; and justice that connects us with the rest of the world. John Buchanan, Pastor Emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church, in Chicago, said, “We eat bread and drink wine together and confess our hunger and our trust that Jesus Christ, the love of God incarnate, not only nurtures our hunger, but also meets it with his own unconditional love, the bread of life.”

When we break bread and drink from the cup, we get a taste of that welcoming, unconditional love to fill our hungry souls. Jesus Christ is that bread.

Lander Bethel

Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.