Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
There is a story that I would like to share with you this morning
Because I believe that it is a story about the bread of life
of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel passage.
If you happened to have been in church last Sunday then you heard the beginning of the story to which today’s reading from the same John Chapter Six is a sequel. Everyone enjoys a sequel—it imbues one with a sense of continuity.
Do you remember how the gospel narrative went last week? John, Chapter Six begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand hungry people. This is the only miracle of Jesus that is attested to by all four canonical gospels—so it must be something that we are to pay attention to. This is the one miracle story without which the good news of Jesus would not be complete.
You recall the beautifully vivid details of what happened on that Galilean hillside: Jesus beholds the throngs of people who are coming toward him and presents to his disciples the question: “How are we to feed all these people?!” To which his incredulous disciple responds, in effect: “Are you kidding? A half a year’s income wouldn’t buy enough for each person to have only a crumb!”
But there is a young boy here who has five loaves and two fish—but what is that among so profound a hunger?
You remember what Jesus does: he takes the pittance—although he does not consider it a pittance but rather a gift from God—and he gives thanks for it. Then he has the loaves and fishes distributed among the five thousand, and when they have all eaten, the leftovers fill twelve baskets.
My friends, this is a parable of our lives: Give thanks for whatever pittance comes your way—and stand back and let God work….on
Today’s gospel passage is a follow-on to what is sometimes referred to as ‘the multiplication of the loaves.” John the Evangelist provides this add-on of Jesus in dialog with those who were fed—as if to make sure that we—like them—do not miss God’s point. John does not want those who have just been miraculously fed—or ourselves! – to wander away without having first reflected on the meaning of what has just taken place. Jesus does not want the people to leave the hillside—or us to leave the church—without having brought home what Jesus has done here—and who Jesus is—and having become different people.
The evangelist wants to make sure that we realize that this miracle not about the gross domestic product—the output of all the bakeries of Galilee—but is rather about the soul being fed.
–Which is why it is that Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”
Underneath it all, is it not about the hungry soul being fed. Isn’t this why all these people throng to the rabbi from Nazareth? They were hungry—hungry for healing, starved for forgiveness, for meaning for their lives. They came seeking redemption for the brokenness of their hearts and of their lives. Who knows?- maybe even the mending of the brokenness of their borders.
Why else, at bottom, would you and I have come here this morning, to this sacred place, if not for the same reason—that our souls are hungry and want feeding with the bread of life.
I promised you a story and now I’d like to tell it to you.
The story is of the architect George Docsi whose early childhood was in Hungry in Central Europe in the dark years leading up to the Second World War.
“When I was a boy,’ George recounts,
I loved dinner. I loved to go into the dining room and sit in front of the big plates, and have the maid come in and serve the soup. One evening I went downstairs, and the dining room was in an uproar. A pogrom had taken place in Russia, and many Jews were fleeing over the border to our town. My grandfather went down to the railroad station and brought home Jews whom he found there. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could see old men with skull caps in the dining room, mothers nursing babies in the corners of the dining room, and I threw a fit. I said, “I want my supper! I want my supper!” One of the maids offered me a piece of bread. I threw it on the floor and screamed, “I want my supper!” My grandfather happened to enter the dining room at that moment and heard me. He bent down and picked up the piece of bread, kissed it, and gave it to me. I ate it.
By the grandfather’s kiss the discarded crust, for which the petulant child had only contempt, became the bread of life. The cursed piece of bread was blessed and became sustenance for eternal life. Of this sanctified piece of bread of his childhood George Docsi is still being nourished today—which is why he passes on this story to us, who also know something about being hungry, about being demanding, and about being forgiven.
By the grandfather’s unselfconsciously, spontaneously bringing the despised crust to his lips, the bread was sanctified, made somehow holy, utterly transformed- and when the boy took and unhesitatingly ate it, he found sustenance not just for his body but for his soul.
Now I want to tell you another, related story. My friend, Earnie, who occasionally worships at St. Stephen’s, has a spiritual practice of going every several weeks to the Bank of America branch in Corte Madera where he exchanges five twenty dollar bills for fifty two dollar bills. (He goes to that branch because he knows they have two dollar bills.)
As Earnie goes through the daily routines of his life, when he sees someone who has their hand out for money, or who looks like they may be ready to ask for money, Earnie goes up to them and greets them and looks them in the eye. After he shakes their hand, he gives them a two dollar bill and he asks that God will bless them. When the conversation is over, he departs. When he runs out of two dollar bills then goes back to the bank, and he keeps praying for the people he has met and by whom he feels that he has been blessed.
Now the person with her hand out was probably just hoping for some spare change at the most. “Give me some bread, man!” But what she got from Earnie was the bread of life. It was a gesture of human recognition—that you and I are the same, each with our hungers, each with our craving to know that we are not alone.
Now I think that the point of this is not necessarily digging into our pocketbook each time we see someone panhandling; rather it is about digging into our heart each time we encounter a fellow human being—or even some of God’s other creatures, for that matter! How can we be for them the bread that gives life to the world?
And this has political implications as well—as is implied by the title of Ronald
Sider’s book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. The subtitle of the books is: “Moving from Affluence to Generosity.”
There is a reason that the dispossessed are lining up at our country’s borders. “The homeless, the temptest-tossed” are indeed streaming to our shore—just as Lady Liberty in New York Harbor bid them to do. What is to be our response? Shall we—the richest nation that the world has ever seen—separate them from their children and turn them all away?
From the very first, after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Jesus’ original followers experienced his Risen Presence among them in the giving thanks and breaking of the bread. It was in this ritual that their Lord had enacted with them on the evening before he died, that the disciples tasted his saving, forgiving, abiding presence among them—meeting once again the hunger of their souls, fortifying them to go out and love as he had loved them.
Jesus’ disciples were to become themselves bread of life for those among whom they lived—and they have passed on this gift and this call to us.
Evangelism has been described as one hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread, where to find the nourishment for which we all long.
Jesus says: “I am – but also: you are- the bread of life.
We are to become the bread for which we hunger.
Let us be so, from day to day.