Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had issues with food.
I used food as a means of controlling something when I wasn’t in control of anything. By taking authority over what I put in my mouth (or didn’t) I disassociated myself from that which I could not control – my mother’s illness, for example – and put the focus back on myself. Food gave me a sense of control and power when I felt out of control and powerless.
Unfortunately, false security and power don’t really stick to your ribs. Hunger can only be denied for so long. Even to the most authoritative anorexic, hunger will, eventually, win. The body will do whatever is necessary to regain balance, sending up red flags and warning bells, hunger always wins. No anorexic remains in control forever.
Hunger is something that dwells deep inside, a mortal ache of emptiness. It is not a quiet longing but an urgent yearning. For fullness. The yawning emptiness of depression, loss, grief…they mimic this mortal ache. So often we confuse one longing for another. So often we seek to end our spiritual emptiness with the temporal and temporary substitute of food.
They were thousands on the road that day in Ancient Israel. Likely, many on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. Travelers, moving together through the dust. They had heard of this man, this prophet Jesus who had been performing miracles and wondrous signs around Galilee. When they heard He was there, they could not stay away. Tired, they crowded onto the grassy hillside, expectant. They were hungry. They were aching for food.
He fed them, all of them, with just a few loaves and two fish. A peasant’s meal meant for one, shared by thousands. At the end of the day, they were full. Assuaged of that internal ache, for once; they could not wait for more. They wanted to make Him king, this provider of the miraculous Manna, only better. They thought their full bellies would be the answer to everything.
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” John 6:26-27 (NASB)
The idea that there was something beyond this extraordinary miracle was, quite literally, mind-boggling. You mean it gets better than this? Hungry pilgrims who daily worked for their food, who toiled for every mouthful, could not fathom more. What could be better than a free lunch?
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” John 6:49-51 (NASB)
How often have I mistaken throbs of loneliness or shame for pangs of hunger? How often do we seek a mortal end to our spiritual need? Like the pilgrims, we want to assure ourselves forever a free lunch, a quick fix. Simple solutions to stem the ache, but always, always…hunger wins. Our solutions, they do not last.
They could not accept this. The eager thousands abandoned this radical Rabbi on the hillside Unable to overcome their confusion, they went back to that which they knew, a feast day and full bellies, but empty souls forever yearning to be fed.
Which would you choose? The temporary fix, the momentary full, or the forever flesh that always provides, always endures, never stopping, never giving up, forever kind of fullness.
Let go of what we think we want, and taking hold of that which is proffered freely, without cost, without expectation.
The Bread of Life.
“This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:58 (NASB)