While visiting a big city, Betsy, who suspected her husband of cheating on her snuck off to visit a fortune teller of some local repute.
In a dark and hazy room, peering into a crystal ball, the mystic delivered grave news. “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just be blunt: Prepare yourself to be a widow. Your husband will die a violent and horrible death this year.”
Visibly shaken, Betsy stared at the woman’s lined face, then at the single flickering candle, then down at her hands. She took a few deep breaths to compose herself. She simply had to know. She met the fortune teller’s gaze, steadied her voice, and asked her question. “Will I be acquitted?
When it came time to preach this sermon, I just couldn’t tell that joke: adultery, murder, divination… no. Not good sermon material.
Jesus had been teaching and performing miracles in Jerusalem at the Temple and from there he made his way north to the lands surrounding the sea of Galilee. If he went all the way up to Capernaum on the north shore, he would have travelled about eighty miles. After some time, he crossed over the sea and it is there that we have the feeding of the 5,000. Following this, the disciples—without Jesus—take a boat back to Capernaum, but on the way they encounter a storm and it is then they see Jesus walking on the water.
The following day, the people wake up and look for Jesus, thinking that he should still be nearby, but when they can’t find him, they also cross over to Capernaum where they do find him. This is where our Gospel reading begins today with the people saying to Jesus, “Umm… you were over there with no way of getting over here. How’d you do that?” Jesus doesn’t answer that question, but only tells them why it is they were looking for him: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
These words are the beginning of what is known as the Bread of Life Discourse, consisting of thirty-seven verses. It is such an important teaching, that we will hear from these verses for three more Sundays.
It begins with the people asking Jesus a series of questions: how did you get here? What is the work of God? What sign will you give us? What work are you performing? And then someone says, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” In saying this, they are throwing down the gauntlet on Jesus. If you want us to believe you, why don’t you pull this particular rabbit out of the hat. To that challenge, Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And the people are like, “Yeah, yeah…give us that bread.”
The people are still thinking about their empty stomachs and Jesus could have given them what they wanted, but Jesus did not need a crystal ball to tell them what would happen if he did. He only needed to look at their history.
The Israelites had made the exodus out of Egypt and were wandering in the desert. They grew hungry and complained against God, so the Lord said, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.” And he did. He gave them manna to eat.
Our Psalm today speaks of all of this and concluded with:
They ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
God gave them everything they craved, but they weren’t ever happy. They weren’t ever satisfied.
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” (Numbers 11:4-6)
Yes, Jesus says to those listening. Moses did feed them with the bread from heaven, but after awhile, they weren’t satisfied. So he gave them quail, but guess what? They eventually weren’t satisfied with that either. Moses could have gone on and given them cucumbers, melons, Kobe beef, and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, but in the end they would still be grumbling and would always want more.
No. Jesus did not need a crystal ball to know how it would all play out. So, he says, instead of seeking after something that you will later be dissatisfied with, why not seek after that which will satisfy you now and for all eternity. Seek after the bread which will give you life eternal. And what is this bread? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus said, I—God—am the one thing that will satisfy you completely. Follow me and believe in me.
Like the Israelites in the wilderness, God can give and fulfill our every craving, but like the Israelites, we will grow tired of it, because what we crave is not what we need. It is not what will sustain or fulfill us. If you think about it, you know it’s true. We may occasionally find some peace, but there is a restlessness within us. An itch. A craving. However you want to refer to it, and it is really never satisfied. What is the remedy for such cravings? In the first paragraph of his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo, speaking to God, wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
When he says that our heart is restless, I believe he is referring to both our physical and spiritual heart, our entire being which will remain restless until it rests in God alone. And it is a restlessness, a craving, that can only be satisfied and nourished with the true Bread of Heaven. Our response in hearing this can be the same response as those who were listening to Jesus: “Sir, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus does. “I am the bread of life.” We receive this bread of life physically in the Eucharist and spiritually through our faith. If we can truly receive this bread then we are truly free. Free from the empty cravings that draw us away from God.
I would like to tell you that I have reached such a level of perfection, but I think we all know that would be a lie. It is not easy and it is always a struggle. It is God’s grace alone that fills in the gap, but that does not mean that we don’t work to lessen that gap. Strive, body and soul, to be satisfied with God alone. Seek to find peace in him. Yes, Lord, give us this bread always that we might find rest in you.
Let us pray: Father in heaven, you have made us for yourself; our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Fulfill this longing through Jesus, the bread of life, so that we may witness to him who alone satisfies the hungers of the human family. By the power of your Spirit lead us to the heavenly table where we may feast on the vision of your glory for ever and ever. Amen.