535) The Bread of Life (part one)

John 6:1-13:

     Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

     When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

     Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

     Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

     Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”  There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.  He did the same with the fish.

     When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over.  Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

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     This Bible story reminds me of a Peanuts comic strip I read one time.  I’ll describe it as well as I can as I remember.  Charlie Brown’s hands are raised in frustration as he is talking to his dog Snoopy.  He says, “You are lucky to be a dog, Snoopy.  You don’t have any the worries that people have.  The whole world is in a mess– wars, storms, crime, not to mention all our own personal troubles.  I have so much on my mind.  And, you?  You’re a dog, so you don’t have to worry about anything.”  Charlie then walks away, his head so full or worries that he has forgotten to put food in Snoopy’s dish.  And then the last frame shows Snoopy, looking worried, thinking to himself, “I wonder where my next meal is coming from.”

     Actually, Snoopy had the biggest worry of all.  One of the most basic needs, for humans and for dogs, is to eat, and after a day or two of no food, hunger will begin to override all other concerns.  Charlie Brown was feeling the burden of all the trouble in the world, and, as readers of that comic strip can well remember, he also had a lot of personal problems.  But if no one fed him for a couple days, all other worries would be forgotten, and like Snoopy, he would be thinking and worrying about nothing but food.

     When I traveled in Haiti with a missionary several years ago, I met many people who were often hungry.  For them, happiness in life was a simple matter– if they got something to eat on any given day, that was a happy day, and if they didn’t eat, well then, that was a tough day; but maybe the next day would be better.  They had that simple hope.  I did not meet anyone who was starving to death.  The people I met could scrape together enough to live.  But it was not uncommon for them to go with no food at all for a day, or two, or even three days.

     The missionary I was with told me that suicide and even depression were rare among the poor in Haiti.  Happiness for them was a simple matter, and not nearly so complicated as it is for people who have so much of everything.  When you have something to eat, then you can begin to worry about finding shelter, getting yourself more comfortable, finding something fun and entertaining to do on the weekends, buying a better TV set, remodeling the house, and so on.  But if the grocery store shelves were all of a sudden emptied, and you would not be able to get any food anywhere, all those other concerns would be quickly forgotten.  Hunger can make you forget almost everything else.

     Therefore, you can hardly blame the people in the above story from John 6 for coming to Jesus looking for food.  In the previous verses, they had followed him into the wilderness, and there they let the time get away on them, and they were hungry.  It was a long walk back home, and food would be on their minds all the while, and their children would be crying with hunger.  Those country people were not wealthy, so they, like the people in Haiti, probably knew what it was to miss a few meals and feel the hunger, and they knew very well how unpleasant it was going to be.  And then, just like that, there came a huge unexpected surprise.  The disciples of Jesus were handing out food, all they could eat, and then some.  Where did it come from?  No one could even guess how someone got a hold of that much food way out there, but all were happy to have it.  They ate and ate until they couldn’t anymore, and even then, there were twelve big baskets of leftovers.  Is anyone surprised that these people came back the next day for more?  (continued…)

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MEALTIME PRAYERS for BOTH KINDS OF BREAD:

Father in heaven, sustain our bodies with this food, our hearts with true friendship, and our souls with Thy truth, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.
The Book of Common Worship, Presbyterian, 1906

Lord Jesus, you are the living water given to quench the deepest thirst of our hearts and you are the bread of heaven sent to give us life that will go on forever.  We thank you that you are also mindful of our earthly human needs and that day by day you provide for these needs, even as you give us the gifts we need for our spirits.  We praise and thank you.  Amen.