Bread of Life

Bread of Life

Our scripture this morning is part of the larger narrative of the feeding of the multitude. If we try to separate the statement, “I am the bread of life,” from the sharing of the loaves and fish, we will miss the point of Jesus’ metaphor.

According to John the feeding of the multitude occurred just before the Feast of the Passover, probably at least a year before Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. The association of the feeding of the multitude with the Passover is to remind us of the Last Supper, and the early church’s practice of connecting with the living power of Jesus by gathering at the Sharing Table. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Sharing Table in the life of the early followers of Jesus. The setting for the feeding of the multitude was in Galilee.

Large crowds were following Jesus hoping to get a glimpse of a miracle, a healing, looking for a sign, something spectacular, more than listening to what Jesus was trying to teach. John tries to help us understand that one of the problems of working miracles is that people will follow you for the wrong reasons. They are looking for the next magical trick, the next dazzling performance, rather than listening and learning the truth about, forgiving, sharing, loving, living in community – the miracle that love heals.

The feeding of the multitude was like the sharing table. Everyone who was hungry was fed, because they shared. In the story before Jesus blessed the five barley loaves and the two dried fish, he told his disciples, “Make the people sit down.” When people are behaving like hogs at the trough, some folks will gorge themselves while others will go away empty. Sharing is about making sure everyone gets enough – not more than they need but enough. “Give us this day our daily bread – not tomorrow’s bread or next week’s bread but enough for today. So what Jesus was trying to help the people learn was sharing and enough.

That reminds me of a story about the two authors Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. They were attending a party on Shelter Island, a private island, given by a Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager. Looking around at all of the lavish facilities, luxurious food and exotic entertainments Kurt Vonnegut asked Joseph Heller, “Joe how do you feel, when we think that our host made more money in a single day, than you’ve made on your book Catch – 22?

Heller thought for a moment and replied, “It’s o.k., because I have one thing he will never have.”

“What’s that?”

“Enough.”

Jesus wants us to understand enough, because when we learn the meaning of “enough,” then we are able to share – not trickle down, but really share, giving to others so they might have enough. There is sufficiency for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. Live simply, so that others may simply live. The Commonwealth of God becomes a reality in our midst, when we learn to share.

But very much like today, the people of the Galilee of the First Century were looking for a sign, a leader who would do it all for them, who would supernaturally lead them in throwing the hated Romans out of their home land. Look at John 6:14-15:

After the people saw that everyone had been fed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

The people just didn’t get it. “Let’s make him the leader, and then everyone can be fed.” They didn’t get it. It’s not the leader, it’s the sharing and love that bring the Commonwealth of God into the present moment. It’s the sharing that makes enough possible.

After Jesus slipped away from the people he made his way by night back to Capernaum. When the people came to Capernaum looking for him, he said to them: John 6:26 “Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me not because you learned to share and have enough, you seek me because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for food that perishes, but food that endures for eternal life – love, faith, hope, community.” These are the signs of the Commonwealth of God.

Because Jesus embodied the love of God, we can say, Jesus is the bread of life. But if all we do is say, “Jesus is the Bread of Life”, if all we do is praise Jesus without learning to come to the sharing table, without learning the meaning of enough, without learning to give to others and embrace the way of Jesus in community, then we have missed the bread of life – the Commonwealth of God.

I ran across a story about sharing.  A young man saw a very elderly couple sitting down to lunch at McDonald’s. He noticed that they had ordered one meal, and an extra drink cup.  As he watched, the gentleman carefully divided the hamburger in half, then counted out the fries, one for him, one for her, until each had half of them.  Then he poured half of the soft drink into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife.  The old man then began to eat, and his wife sat watching, with her hands folded in her lap.
The young man decided to ask if they would allow him to purchase another meal for them so that they didn’t have to split theirs.
The old gentleman said, “Oh no. We’ve been married 50 years, and everything has always been and will always be shared, 50/50.”
The young man then asked the wife if she was going to eat, and she replied, “It’s his turn with the teeth.”

Maybe there are some things we don’t need to share. If we are going to make it on this increasingly crowded planet, however, we all need to follow Jesus to the Sharing Table. We need to recognize we are all in this together and stop screaming socialism every time we are encouraged to contribute to the common good.

And that reminds me, if you look in your latest copy of the Reflections there is an article from Sharon Youngkin about a critical need for monetary donations and volunteers to keep Meals on Wheels going in North Alabama. Let me share it with you.

Meals on Wheels currently delivers daily meals to 218 senior citizens in Huntsville, 35 in Madison and 50 people in New Sharon, New Market and New Hope. The support from its traditional volunteer and funding base is dwindling at a time, when Meals on Wheels needs to expand service to include rural Madison County. The Meals on Wheels Program has a yearly budget of $1.2 million, was down 15% – $11,000 – as of May in projected revenue from donations and fundraising. The approximately 550 volunteers, many who have served since the late 1970’s are getting older, and some can no longer make deliveries. So a new group of volunteers willing to deliver meals once a month are needed.

During this recession many churches have cut back their donations of money and volunteers. The program is in a crunch both for cash and volunteers. The City of Huntsville gives Meals on Wheels $325,225 a year, the Madison County Commission gives $43,379 and the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments donates $196,624. That still leaves $500,000 that needs to be raised from program revenues and fundraisers such as the Senior Expo in September.

Meals on Wheels is like the Sharing Table writ large. Not only does Meals on Wheels provide older partially disabled people a meal, it also provides someone check on them at least once a day. And that can make the difference to help people remain in their homes and avoid for themselves and society at large the expense of assisted living. In a time when Congress is talking aggressively about cutting Medicare, Medicaid and even Social Security, Meals on Wheels is an important form of community sharing a way of caring for one another with dignity.

I saw a cute story about a daughter who had just helped her 90-year-old mother through the strain of moving from the family home into a new unit in a senior apartment building.  The daughter was trying to tidy up all the arrangements and tactfully said: “Mom, what about Meals on Wheels?” To which her mother replied: “No, dear, I don’t think I could volunteer for them anymore.”

Meals on Wheels can only work, if there are volunteers – people willing to go out of their way to help other people. The Commonwealth of God becomes a reality in the present, when people are willing to go out of their way to help other people to the Sharing Table. “Do not labor for food that perishes, but seek the food that endures for eternal life – love, faith, hope, community.”

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