When I read the lectionary passage from the Gospel of John for this week, I scratched my head. This week's text is the third of the "bread passages" in our lectionary cycle. There is a lot of bread this summer. And it's about now that many preachers and congregants start asking, "Bread, again?"
Yes, this text is about bread. But it is also a proclamation that Jesus is the Bread of Life. In John 6:35, we read: Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (NIV).
Is what Jesus offers such a fantastic feast that we go away feeling like we never need to eat again? Is it such an astonishing spiritual feast that we are fed by that gift continually from that time on? Is it a recurring need to reconnect to Christ to feel fed again and again? Or does that need vanish? What does this feel like?
What does it mean to feast on Jesus? Or to feast on the word -- to take in the words of faith and to make them part of one's daily life and nourishment? What does it look like to be transformed by the Word of the Lord?
These are the questions that pop into my mind as I think about this week's text. And then I think about my Granddad.
It's About Feasting
My grandfather was a West Texas cattle rancher and farmer. He raised Hereford beef cattle and grew corn, wheat and other grains. We ate some of the most amazing grass fed beef when we went to visit. These are the kinds of steaks people only dream of eating. Every holiday feast was like a moment out of a family holiday photo in Life Magazine. We were together as a family, feasting on the bounty God had blessed the farm and family with, and it was simply marvelous.
Granddad used to say we go to church on communion Sunday to feast on the bread and juice -- on those and other Sundays we feast on the Word of God as well. He would say that "anyone who goes away hungry -- it's their own dang fault." The feast is laid out, the invitation is given and the table is before us. So if we go away hungry, why did that happen? What is stopping us from joining in the feast?
But feasting is a word that many in our world do not comprehend on a personal level. We live in a world with staggering poverty. In Philadelphia, where I live, the most recent hunger statistics state that one-in-three persons in my city are "food insecure or hungry." This is stunning to me. We live in a land of plenty, despite the economic downturn. We live in a world of abundance, but far too many of our brothers and sisters live without.
Looking more globally, there are places in our world where starvation and poverty are the reality for most. One-in-seven people on our planet are undernourished or hungry, according to WorldHunger.org. How do we talk about feasting in this environment?
I want to be who God calls me to be and make an impact in the world, sharing resources and offering assistance to those in need. Many will call me a socialist and deride my genuine care as a political agenda, but I believe no one should go hungry. Spiritually or physically.
I know that one of the best ways to help is to instill a sense of worth that all are welcome to come to the table -- to come to the Bread of Life. All persons deserve to receive the gift of abundant life.
The truth is, everyone -- in spite of their life circumstances -- needs to have hope. They need to see options for a better world. They need to envision a time and place when they are gifted with what God intends for them. This passage reminds me of that hope, that vision, and that gift. It brings us into deeper relationship with the one who is the Bread of Life -- the one who feeds us over and over again.
And It's About Asking for More
I am reminded of the times I have been at the table of Holy Communion receiving the bread and cup and was moved in such astonishing ways. One Sunday I was serving communion to my son, who was about 4 at the time. I offered him the bread, saying, "This is the bread of life," and he looked up at me and said, "I want a BIG piece of Jesus." He knew this was a feast. He was asking for what all of us have a hard time finding the words to request -- more. More God, spiritual nourishment, connections to the Holy, hope, abundance, being part of the Body of Christ, bread that keeps us from hungering and belief that keeps us from thirsting.
When we go away hungry, according to my grandpa, it's our own fault. So what stops us?
Sometimes circumstances try to block us from receiving and we have to do everything we can to overcome those obstacles to get to the gift. Sometimes it is the feeling that we are not worthy. This is a common misconception. Many mistakenly believe that they are too flawed to receive the bread of life and the cup of hope.
Well, my Granddad and my son taught me something powerful about that. The feast is there, I'm invited, and I am worthy to receive the abundance of God's love and grace. We all are invited. We all are worthy.
We have to open ourselves to receive the gift. We have to make the effort to come to the table. We have to believe in the power of the meal, the cup and the Word. We have to believe we are worthy of the feast.
I have finally learned that I am worthy.
And so are you, my friends. So are you.
Editor's Note: ON Scripture - The Bible is a series of Christian scripture commentaries produced in collaboration with Odyssey Networks. Each week pastors from around the country will approach the lectionary text of the week through the lens of current events, providing a religious voice that is both pastoral and prophetic.