It’s a well known adage that if something is good for you then it mustn’t taste very nice. This seems to bother a lot of people. On the other hand if some thing tastes really great, then it probably isn’t very good for you. This however, rarely seems to bother anyone! When you stop at any roadside service station and look at their selection of “snacks” you don’t find a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead you find a lot of bright and interesting packaging around a lot of otherwise nutritionally bankrupt food. It will fill your belly, but it wreaks havoc on your body. I know all this but still I am a regular supporter of chocolate bar, potato chip, and candy companies. And I know that I’m not alone. People today have an almost insatiable desire for foods that are no good for them.
This desire is nothing new. It was a desire that the Israelites knew all too well. In our Old Testament reading they had just been delivered out of slavery by God. He had miraculously brought them across the Red Sea. Now, only a short while later they are already grumbling and complaining because they are hungry. “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.” The Israelites were ready to become slaves again, just to have full bellies. But God was giving them so much more! He was giving them freedom, He was making them a nation, He was taking them as His own people. Yet they didn’t see all this because they were more concerned with a little meat for their plates.
In the same way people continued to be slaves to their insatiable desires right through to Jesus day. In the Gospel lesson, we see the same situation played out again. After feeding the 5000 miraculously, Jesus is almost forcefully declared a king by the crowds. A king of Bread. Jesus leaves them before they can do it. They follow Him the next day and catch up with Him in Capernaum. When Jesus sees them He knows why they have followed. He says to them “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” Jesus had performed the miracles so that they might know that He was truly the Son of God, but the crowds were happy to remain slaves to their desire for food. They had been fed miraculously, but that was yesterday, and they were hungry again! They wanted more. More miracles! More food! They were more interested in flashy packaging and being constantly entertained than in the gifts that Jesus was giving.
And then something interesting happens, Jesus tells them that there is more than just the food they are after, there is food that endure to eternal life. A food that the Son of Man will give them. “What must we do to do the works God requires?” They ask Him. Perhaps their intentions are good but again they are missing the point. They’re only asking for enough of this eternal food to get them going. They feel that they can take care of the rest themselves. Jesus replies that the only work involved is to have faith in Him. This is not a work done by humans at all, but is a gift given by God!
Immediately the crowds fall back into that old slavery to their desires. More miracles they demand! We want more bread. Moses, they reasoned had fed an entire nation with manna for forty years. Jesus may have fed 5000 in one sitting but He had a long way to go before He could prove Himself the Messiah! Again Jesus must correct them, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven but it was God His Father who gives true bread. And that true bread is nothing other than Jesus Himself. Needless to say this was not the kind of food most of them were looking for. They had a hard time swallowing it … so they left.
People’s taste in food has not changed one bit even today. People still crave that which is no good for them. Many still go after the foods that will spoil. Focusing merely upon the sign and not the one performing it. People still want flashy packaging and continuous entertainment from their God. People continue to ask “What miraculous sign will You give that we may see it and believe You?” And so people flock to churches where they can see the flash, where they can be immersed in the glitz and glitter, the pomp and show. More miracles! More signs! People demand. Give us more bread! Once is never enough, you know. They must see it over and over again. Why? Because on its own it’s not filling. It’s not sustaining. It is junk food.
But there are also people who don’t necessarily want to see miracles every day that are still slaves to their desires. These are the people who want nothing more from God than bread. They want a happy peaceful life free from illness. A life without hardships. A life in which everything is comfortable and supplied by God. These are the people who would be happy to have little more than a bread King, a bread God. They can’t get past the here and now. These people are not so much concerned with eternal foods, just the stuff needed for this life. Or they are the people who only want a little of that eternal food. Just enough to get them going. “Thanks God I can take it from here. If I need any more later, I know where to find you!” But as Jesus tells us all of these foods spoil. Eventually everything in this world turns sour or is used up. Nothing in this life is permanent. It is the wrong kind of food and that is why nothing in this life truly satisfies.
Or does it? Jesus very plainly tells us that there is one food that endures to eternal life. Food that He will give to us. What is this food? This true bread from heaven is He who came down from heaven and gives life to the world. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. This bread of life is not at all like earthly foods. It will not leave you hungry. It is not merely looking to sustain your life but to give you life like you’ve never had before! Life in the greatest and most complete sense. It is the exact opposite of death, and separation from God’s blessings. It is an existence untouched by sin and unaffected by sin’s consequences. Holiness innocence and purity of heart lie in this word “life”. Once a person has this life they can be truly content. They can be at rest with their God.
It is a food given to us not because we earn it or in any way deserve it. The Son of Man gives this gift to all those who believe in Him. But that faith in Christ is a gift from God in itself. It is a gift He gives to each and every one of us in baptism; a gift He continues to give to all His children as we hear His Holy Word. This is the type of food God would have us crave. Not the things of this world, not things that will fade and pass away. Not the things that will ultimately leave us empty. He would have us crave nothing other than every good thing He can give us in Christ – the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and love beyond measure.
Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life is not concerned with flashy packaging, or catchy slogans. He came in humbleness and humility. He was born not in a palace but in a stable. He grew up as a carpenter’s son. He won our salvation by dying on a cross in front of people who jeered and mocked him. His triumphant return to life was heralded by little more than an empty grave. He continues to come to us giving us His very own body and blood in nothing more than bread and wine. No flashy miracle to bedazzle the curious. Hardly the kind of food to fill your hungry belly. But it is God’s greatest gift to us. It works the miraculous, by strengthening the faith first given in baptism and by granting again and again the forgiveness of sins. It is more than enough food to give the eternal blessings of heaven.
By Christ we were all called together and given the opportunity to grow in His Word and be fed with His eternal food of life. Again today He comes to us with so much more than we could ever imagine. He came to each of you through the gift of baptism, claiming you as a child of heaven and granting you the promise of everlasting life. He comes to us in His Holy Supper, a guarantee on those promises of forgiveness and grace and eternal life. The packaging may not be flashy or spectacular, but the quality of the food is truly divine. As Jesus Himself declares “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” May you ever hunger and thirst for His righteousness, looking always to Jesus Christ your Saviour, the true bread of Heaven.