Our scripture today picks up with a crowd, several hundred of whom had just come from Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000 with a one boy’s small lunch. They had just listened to his teaching and then eaten from these baskets of food that were passed, abundance of food, food that filled them all and then had more leftovers than they knew what to do with, food that had seemingly come out of nowhere – appearing from a small gift and a simple prayer.
And somehow, shortly after this, Jesus had slipped away. Disappeared. These several hundred were intent on tracking him down.
Here is what happens when they find him.
Once upon a time there was a creative and adventurous Maker who devised a whole new kind of creature and brought it to life. The Maker longed to share the most precious parts of the maker’s own self, and so formed these creatures for real connection with their Maker, each other and even all creation. Each one of these creatures would be completely unique; each one lifting up and drawing out the others in a kind of exquisite harmony, finding and fulfilling their true purpose when they lived in union with their Maker and connection with each other and all creation in love.
They were astounding to behold. Beautiful and complex, distinct but connected, and capable of seemingly infinitely more beauty, complexity, distinction and connection than they even appeared to contain at first glance. They were the pinnacle of all this Maker had ever made, and filled the Maker with deep satisfaction and delight.
Because these creatures were designed for full participation with their Maker, they were unlike any other in their capacity to be known and to know joy, and that meant that the most poignant, most powerful, most important thing the Maker had put into these creatures, that which lay at the core of their very beings, the thing that set them apart and filled them with promise and thrilling possibility, was their hunger.
Hunger meant that they could eat and feel satisfied. It meant that they could hear music and be inspired. It meant they could experience something and celebrate it, that they could understand and could share, and that they would seek to understand more deeply and share more fully.
It meant that they imagined there was more, and they craved it. More hope, more beauty, more joy, a deeper connection with each other and the world.
Hunger taught them what they needed and who they were. It was their gauge, their compass, their consciousness, meant to lead them always to fuller participation and connection with their Maker and each other.
So no matter how different they seemed from one another, they all had the same hunger within – hunger for food, for movement, and belonging, hunger for meaning, for self-expression, and connection, hunger for beauty, for love and wholeness.
They did what they did, they were who they were, from their hunger.
And every time that they were satisfied, every time they felt full, whole or complete, every time they truly connected to another, each time they contributed something meaningful to the world, every moment of loveliness, delight, or true rest, they were connected to their Maker, joining in creativity and adventure, fully alive, fully who they were created to be.
And this pleased their Maker greatly.
But after some time, they began to realize that their hunger meant they were never completely satisfied, at least not permanently. And they began to discover that once they had eaten, it was only a matter of time before they would need to eat again. They saw that once they had tasted joy, it wore off and they longed more deeply for another sip.
And they had started to see that their hunger meant that they had to rely on each other - a hunger for connection cannot be met alone, a hunger for belonging only works if there is someone to belong to. A hunger for expression and contribution may compel one to write a powerful story, paint a breathtaking landscape, or play a spirit-soaring melody, but if nobody else read, saw or heard what they did they couldn’t be fully satisfied. And so sometimes, often, their hunger went unfilled.
Before long, their hunger, their greatest gift, began to make them miserable. Sadness and anger filled them in all the places and ways their hunger grew, unsatisfied, untended, unnoticed. They blamed each other for failing to fill them, and they scorned their Maker for this massive design flaw. After a time, they began to detest the very gift that was made to show them who they were.
They resented their hunger, they despised their hunger, they saw it as a burden, a chore, a humiliating liability.
So they starved themselves and called it noble.
They denied themselves and called it strong.
They confused their hunger for weakness and devised all sorts of clever and complicated strategies to overcome it, which of course, they couldn’t, so they hungered for more ways to ignore and eliminate their hunger, to avoid ever having to face it.
They horded food and turned their back on the hunger of others.
They made industries and economies that exploited the hunger inside of others, persuading, convincing that their magic item or special serum, perfect pill or tantalizing trip could stop hunger forever, could cap the incessant ache.
They pitied those whose hunger was more obvious, less hidden: the young, the old, the hopelessly artistic or mentally troubled.
They made hunger the enemy, and all the while it throbbed inside of them, starved and neglected. And this struggle left them perpetually anxious, weary and afraid.
And this grieved their Maker greatly.
When we come upon Jesus in our story today we find him found out by a ravenous crowd. They had eaten their fill of the bread, and they wanted more. But more than a free meal, they wanted something this experience had stirred in them, something at their core, something that touched the place of their deepest longing, deepest hope, deepest fears. They were hungry. And so they followed him and found him.
“So,” Jesus says, “you do all this work to track me down for a meal that doesn’t satisfy, when you could eat the bread that will satisfy you for all eternity?”
“How can we get this?” they want to know. “What should we do?”
“Believe in me,” he answers them. “Trust in me.”
But they are suspicious, doubting, and afraid to hear.
“Why should we believe?” They ask. “Give us a sign! Moses gave the people manna in the wilderness, so they trusted in him, what sign will you give us to trust in you?”
And Jesus answers, “This bread that Moses gave wasn’t something he did, it was from God. And God gives bread from heaven for the life of the world.”
And now their hunger is really awakened. Now they can feel themselves craving, longing, seeking, and they sense that most dangerous and glorious of hungers come alive – hope: and so they cry, “Sir, Give us this bread always!”
And Jesus answers them, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
And not to be a downer, but the story doesn’t end happily right here. This conversation goes on much further and much longer. Much more back and forth, argument, challenge, frustration, even disappointment. At one point, in fact, crowds aside, his own disciples themselves were saying, “This is really difficult teaching! Who can accept this?”
And finally this long exchange ends with many who had been following him turning away in exasperation and giving up on him.
When this happens, he turns and asks the twelve disciples, those closest to him in all the world, “What about you? Will you also go away?”
And Peter answers on behalf of all of them, “Lord, where in the world are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I can’t help feeling a bit of camaraderie with the crowds. I would be frustrated too. What is he talking about? We have real hunger and want real food, real hope, real life – what could you possibly mean, Jesus, that you ARE the food, the hope, the life?
Jesus awakened their hunger while also reminding them that the hunger itself is from God. He sent them back into the longing, the search, the joy that comes when fulfillment is tasted, the promise it speaks to about the day when all will be filled.
And this is a scary place to live. These are not easy words to let in. By opening yourself to joy you open yourself to pain, by acknowledging the hunger you also recognize that for all the times it is filled, there are plenty of other times when it isn’t. And not fleeing the hunger, but noticing what it has to tell you is a poignant place to live. A raw, honest, and sometimes difficult place to live. But it is where Jesus is found. And it is where the invitation from Jesus resides.
“Believe in the one whom God has sent.” he said.
What would it be like to do that, to believe in him? To trust in him? What would such trust or faith look like? What would it be like to really live in this place? And I guess the question is, really, what would it look like not to fear the hunger? Not to scramble to keep it at bay, not to worry about the next meal, the next disappointment, the next rejection, the next failure?
What would it look like to live fully?
When the creatures were utterly lost in their fear, their sadness, their fatigue and their constant worry, the Maker did something quite unexpected and unprecedented, something quite extraordinary. The Maker transformed and became one of them, filled, just as they were, with deep and pervasive hunger. Hunger that longed for more than it discovered, and craved more than it saw. Hunger that recognized joy, hope and connection and yearned for it all the more fervently.
And then the Maker stood among them and said,
“My creatures, my beautiful hungerers, listen to my voice! I made you with this hunger inside you and it is good! I made you to recognize love and hope, and meaning and to long for it. I made you to know and to appreciate wholeness and life even in its absence, and maybe then all the more, to want to be part of it, to crave to know it always.
I made you this way, and one day you will be completely satisfied and there will be no more need for hunger – for hunger itself will be transformed into fullness, and you will each be fully part of that immeasurable and never-ending abundance. It is in me, and you are in me. But even now, today, you are in me, and I am the bread of life.
So don’t be afraid! Embrace your hunger and let it lead you. Because when you do, you reconnect with me and each other. You remember that fulfillment is real, and you live like what you long for is true!
Join hope and share love in the world and don’t be afraid to miss it, or lose it, or break it. Let your hunger tell you who you are, and what you are part of when you let yourself be.
Trust me. This hunger is a gift.”
And the creatures listened for a moment. And then, one by one, they mostly turned and walked away, shaking their heads in disbelief and despair. And some got so angry that they determined to silence this voice once and for all, or so they thought, by killing this one who spoke such disturbing things, who made them face their hunger, who threatened their empires of evasion.
But that didn’t stop any of it, or hinder the Maker in the least, and it certainly didn’t silence the hunger that lived in them and called to them. And while mostly the creatures walked away, turned their backs, or tried to silence the Maker, a few actually heard the words that the Maker said and felt them stir the hunger inside them into a churning passion.
They watched the words awaken their hunger and they let it happen.
And for those the longing that gripped them grew and flourished. And the hunger inside them connected them to others, and opened them to their Maker. Their hunger filled them with promise and thrilling possibility. And when it wasn’t fulfilled, when disappointment came and fear rose up, they held onto the hunger as an aching honesty that terror and sadness would not prevail.
The longing itself reminded them of this.
And every time that they were satisfied, every time they felt full, whole or complete, every time they truly connected to another, each time they contributed something meaningful to the world, every moment of beauty, joy, or true rest, they were connected to their Maker, joining in creativity and adventure, fully alive, fully who they were created to be.
And this pleased their Maker greatly.