On Tuesday the readings for the day (Acts 7:51-8:1a, Psalm 31:1-5, 16, John 6:30-35) included Jesus’ well known statement: ‘I am the bread of life.’ Bread in that culture was the main food for many people, without which they would starve. In comparing himself to bread, Jesus was saying that he is an essential part of life. He feeds the spiritual part of us in the same way that bread feeds the physical part. The people listening didn’t seem to understand this at all. Having been fed miraculously at the feeding of the 5000, they were focussed on physical bread. My reflection on this from the Tuesday 2pm SLT service is given below:
There’s been a lot in the news in the UK recently about a drug called mephedrone. It is a drug which has been developed in backstreet laboratories and its long term effect on humans is not really known about. Mephedrone is fairly new but has already acquired several names on the street including meph, 4-MMC, MCAT, Drone, Meow and Bubbles. It has effects similar to amphetamines and ecstasy, making users more alert, feeling confident and chatty. The side effects include excess sweating, headaches, heart palpitations, nausea and blue fingers.
Despite the unpleasant side effects, users are driven to take more and more of it in order to enjoy the hour or so of pleasure from it. One father who was interviewed on the radio explained that his son thought he was dying from the palpitations and became very frightened, yet despite this he could not resist getting hold of more of the drug. His father was very much afraid that the next dose could claim his son’s life but nothing seems to be able to turn him away from the drug. He sees his son driven to use something that can only harm him and is powerless to help.
The people who were talking to Jesus in the Gospel passage had been with him the day before. That was the day that Jesus fed 5000 men plus their dependents from boy’s lunch of 5 small barley loaves and two salted fish. These were the people who had eaten their fill of that food and at the end had wanted to make Jesus their king. Jesus had known what was in their minds and had withdrawn, later walking on the water of the lake and joining the disciples in their boat to cross to the other side. The next day the crowd got into boats and headed off to find Jesus. He was not going to escape them so easily.
In the part of a long conversation that we are shown today, the crowd is asking for proof, a sign, so that they may believe that Jesus is the one whom God has sent. These people had witnessed the most incredible miracle the day before, so important that all four Gospels record it. They could have been in no doubt that the only way so many of them could be fed was for a miracle to have occurred. The disciples were certainly in no doubt about the enormity of the task. Yet we hear the people talking to Jesus and basically saying, ‘Moses could do great things so what trick are you going to show us next?’ They’d been fed once and wanted something more.
Jesus had already dealt with this problem during his temptations after his baptism. Even in his famished state after a long fast, he was able to see that turning stones into bread was not the way to carry out his mission. As he said to the tempter, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that God utters.’ Had he based his ministry on magical acts which impressed people and satisfied them physically, he would never have fulfilled what he came to do. Even feeding the people once had led them to seek him out for more. Like drug addicts, they craved further satisfaction and nothing would stop that physical craving. What Jesus wanted them to live on was not bread but the word that God uttered, which in fact was he himself, The Word of God.
Jesus knew that people then, as now, have a hunger that food cannot satisfy. We are not just physical beings but spiritual beings also. We have a spiritual hunger which needs to be satisfied and Jesus came to do just that. Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life in a culture where bread was probably the main part of any meal, rather than an extra accompaniment as it might be for us. Without bread, starvation would soon have followed for the people. Physical life was impossible without it. Jesus was telling them that without him, spiritual life is impossible. Everyone needs him to satisfy their spiritual hunger.
Jesus was trying to show the people that in him we can satisfy our longing for truth, for the answers we are looking for which are not just the latest opinion of our favourite magazine or of our friends. Pontius Pilate was looking for truth when he asked Jesus, ‘What is truth?’ Actually the answer to who is Truth stood right in front of him.
People want to experience a life that means something, that is not based on the temporary thrill of a drug induced high, or the buzz from the latest round of retail therapy before the credit card bill arrives. Jesus is the one who gives us the gift of eternal life, right here, right now, ours for the asking.
You have only to look at teenagers who sleep around and older people who have been divorced many times, who indulge in serial monogamy, in their relentless search for love to know how desperately people want to have the experience of being truly loved. Only Jesus can give us the love which accepts us just as we are, warts and all. Jesus promised that everyone who comes to him will never ever hunger or thirst again.
Jesus was not prepared to give the people the sign that they demanded – some conjuring trick to satisfy them until the next time – like giving a bigger and bigger fix to a drug addict. He was not prepared to fit the mould they wanted him to fit, to become a king as they expected the Messiah to be. However, Jesus did perform the greatest ‘trick’ anyone could imagine when he rose from the dead. That was a sign which helped many to believe that he was the one whom God had sent. Among those believers was Stephen whose martyrdom we heard of today. His life was so filled with Christ that he was able to speak out boldly to the authorities when they questioned him, without fear of the consequences. His needs were so utterly satisfied by his relationship with Christ that nothing could adversely affect him.
I find it fascinating that Stephen could get away with saying so much which criticised the council members, accusing them of murder and resisting the Holy Spirit. They got angry of course and ‘ground their teeth at him’ but did nothing else. The thing that sealed Stephen’s fate seemed to be when he said that he could see Jesus sitting at God’s right hand. This simply didn’t fit what they could accept. It’s quite a picture to imagine, all the important religious leaders covering their ears in order to avoid hearing the truth, and shouting to drown out the truth. It was then that they rushed at Stephen and stoned him.
I was struck afresh by that last sentence in the reading from Acts: ‘And Saul approved of their killing him.’ The Good News about Jesus didn’t fit Saul’s ideas either. Killing Jesus’ followers did fit, as he strove to wipe out what he saw as a cult within Judaism. Eventually, by the grace of God, even this determined enemy of the Christian faith was won over and learnt that Jesus is the only one who can satisfy our deepest longings – Jesus, the true bread from heaven.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor