God is drawing us into each other and into Christ, and joined together, all our hunger and thirst is truly satisfied.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 19 B
Texts: Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Is Jesus really telling hungry and poor people that they should stop worrying about where their next meal is coming from?
It sounds like it. These four weeks we’re focused on just one day, the day after thousands were fed. Last week the crowds wanted another meal. That’s not out of line. Jesus showed he can do it, and yesterday’s meal was gone.
But last week Jesus told them not to worry about perishable food, or hope for daily food from God like the Israelites’ manna. Basically, Jesus told a bunch of hungry folks that looking for more food was misguided. Instead, we hear today, he said “believe in me – I’m the true bread from heaven. Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.”
Little wonder lots of people left. Many of the thousands who followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee after the miraculous picnic were poor, working long hours to provide food for their families. If God could take away just that one worry, what a blessing that would be.
This is hard. Jesus uses hunger and thirst, real problems in our world, to imagine a new life of faith. So we need to know if Jesus isn’t really being uncaring. And then, what truth is he trying to get us to see? And that’s not easy, even for people like us who don’t live with food insecurity or water shortages.
To start with, we’re never going to understand Jesus if we don’t better understand our real hunger and thirst.
Our old assumptions about what we need and want need to be transformed. Our world has taught us to long for things that aren’t good for us – wealth, possessions, things that we think benefit us, and actually cost someone else. We need to change from that.
Think of actual food tastes. When you were a child, there were foods you’d have loved to eat all the time, but wouldn’t have given you good nutrition, would be damaging to eat all the time. As a child, I dreamed of getting myself secretly locked into Woolworth’s overnight and having free reign of the lunch counter and the soda fountain. How many milkshakes, burgers, and fries could I go through? But we grow up, and mostly learn to eat food that really is good for us.
And now Jesus invites us to grow into another new way. He uses the idea of hunger and thirst to help us change because we understand those realities. Jesus says we have deep needs that only God can fill. Not for food or money or possessions. Things we really hunger for but often don’t realize it.
This is the heart of Jesus’ words to the crowds after the meal: God wants to draw you into God, where you’ll find all you really need.
Today Jesus says, “No one comes to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” So if faith is being drawn into God by God, Christ the Son then draws us into each other in the same way. Paul’s beautiful description today of our new life comes from being transformed into one new reality together. We become, Paul says today, members of each other.
This is amazingly radical. We’re culturally conditioned to think of ourselves as individuals. Your life is your own, mine is mine. So we hunger and thirst to help ourselves most times. Yes, we have community, friends, family. But for centuries we have taught and lived that ultimately you only have yourself.
But everything Jesus taught, everything Paul proclaimed, assumes the exact opposite. In Christ there is no life of the individual. You are not you apart from me. You belong to me. I belong to you. And we all belong to Christ, and are made into Christ.
Christ’s teachings of faith and life make no sense if we think we’re individuals. They only make sense if we’re all connected. Joined together we then find our deepest hungers and thirsts that can be filled forever in Christ.
When God transforms us into a shared body, our hunger and thirst become for the good of all.
If my knee is damaged, it hurts my whole body, how I walk, sleep, sit. I can’t ignore it as if it’s not my problem. If we could imagine the body of Christ that way – and Paul certainly has tried to help us do this – our lives would never be the same.
That’s why Jesus redirects the crowds away from their very real hunger and thirst. Not because he doesn’t care about their bellies. But because if they see each other as one body in Christ, no one will ever go hungry again. That’s what he taught with the miraculous feeding: all belong, all matter. If one hurts, all hurt.
So knowing in faith we are all part of each other, we find our deepest hunger and thirst is for justice. If any of God’s children are in pain – from hunger, oppression, disease, racism, sexism, violence – so are we. We are as affected as if our own bodies were in that pain. And because God’s abundance of resources, community, and love are meant for all, our hunger for justice will be satisfied when we live into our new reality of being one body with each other in Christ where all are cared for.
The surprise of belonging to each other in God is that our own personal hungers are also filled forever.
At our core, we hunger to belong. None of us wants to think we’re alone, that we don’t matter to someone. Well, you’re part of me, and I of you, and all of us with all God’s children on earth. Your hunger for belonging is forever satisfied.
At our core, we hunger for love. Love that can overlook our flaws, love that brings light and joy to our hearts. Well, you’re part of me, and I of you, and we are joined to Christ whose love for the world and for you broke death’s power forever. If we are members of each other, if we are joined in that love to all God’s children on earth, your hunger for love is forever satisfied.
At our core, we hunger for a purpose. We deeply hope to make a difference, to matter. Well, you’re part of me, and I of you, and we are joined to all God’s children on earth. Each of us is vital to each of us. At every moment you matter to the body of Christ, you have something to offer. And your hunger for purpose is forever satisfied.
So this is Jesus’ invitation: let God draw you into God – God’s life, God’s love.
You’ll be changed. You’ll stop seeing yourself as an individual, and begin to feel your connection to all people, all creatures, the whole creation. You’ll hunger and thirst for new things. Not selfish, material things like the world teaches you to want. Real things. Things that matter. You’ll finally experience what it is to really be filled, the joy of being so connected that no one can tell who’s doing all the feeding and loving of God’s creation, but joyously it turns out all have all they want.
This is hard stuff to grasp. Next week you’ll hear more challenging things from Jesus. You’ll see more people walk away, some angry, some confused. You might be tempted, too.
But stick around. Take the chance of letting God draw you in anyway. Because if there really is a hunger and thirst inside you that God can fill forever, isn’t it worth sticking around to see how that will happen for you, and for this world?
In the name of Jesus. Amen