August 5, 2018, Being Hungry Enough – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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There’s an old Ricky Nelson song you’ve probably heard before. It goes like this:
I will follow you
Follow you wherever you may go
There isn’t an ocean too deep
A mountain so high it can keep me away
Last week we read the story about Jesus feeding the multitude, and today we continue on in John chapter 6. It’s the next day. Jesus and the disciples have crossed the Sea of Galilee, going back to Capernaum. And a whole crowd of people who attended the miraculous feast have gotten into boats and followed them across the sea, looking for Jesus, determined to follow him wherever he might go.
But Jesus doesn’t seem to welcome them in a very gracious way. You might have noticed, as we read in the gospels, that Jesus sometimes says or does things that surprise us. We have our own ideas about who Jesus is and how he ought to behave. We mostly expect Jesus to be relentlessly warm and fuzzy, hugging little children and laying hands on lepers to heal them and speaking kind words of love and wisdom and comfort. What we don’t expect Jesus to do is to rebuke the hungry crowds that follow him across the sea. SO – that is a clue to us that we need to look closely to see what’s going on, and why. Because when Jesus surprises us, when he makes us uncomfortable, those are opportunities for us to grow deeper in our knowledge of who Jesus really is.
“The truth is,” Jesus says to the crowds, pretty bluntly, “the truth is, you didn’t row across the sea because you saw the signs I did and believed in me; you came because I filled your bellies with bread.” And then he tells them, “Listen, don’t work for earthly food that you keep having to find, day after day after day. Work for the food that lasts, forever.”
And we want to pay close attention to what Jesus is saying and doing, because it is very easy to think that Jesus is saying something like this: “I’m sorry, guys, but I have no use for people who care about worldly stuff like bread and fish. I’m looking for followers with higher, more spiritual, motives.” And we conclude that what Jesus really seems to be looking for in a disciple is one of those skinny, quiet, super-mystical-type people who never smile and don’t care if they ever eat anything, and who don’t do anything but sit and meditate on goodness and light and Bible verses from dawn to dusk. Somebody like Ghandi, if Ghandi was a Christian. Surely, we think, Jesus came to teach people how to be good, and so obviously he doesn’t really concern himself with everyday, unimportant things like physical hunger and thirst. He’s got bigger, more spiritual, fish to fry, as it were.
The mistake people often tend to make is in thinking that Jesus was criticizing the hungry crowd for asking for too much, for being too greedy and worldly, when what he was really doing was begging them to be hungry for more, not less. If you read the gospels, there’s no question that Jesus cares deeply about the physical hunger of those people. When they came crowding around him, he took the loaves and fishes and blessed them and sent his disciples around to make sure everyone had as much as he or she could eat. For some of those people, it might have been the first time they had ever been able to eat until they were completely satisfied; Jesus fed them abundantly. That’s why they had gotten so excited.
And that wasn’t even the only time the gospels tell us about Jesus feeding huge crowds of people. There is another, separate story where Jesus fed 4000 people. He multiplied bread to fill many thousands of hungry bellies, and he did many more things that dealt with people’s everyday, physical needs: he straightened the back of an old woman who was crippled and in pain; he touched people so that they could see or hear or walk for the first time in their whole lives. Jesus cared deeply about people’s physical needs and hungers.
So, when Jesus rebuked the crowd that followed him across the sea, we can be sure that it wasn’t because he wanted them to learn that their hungers and needs were not important. It wasn’t even that he wanted people to learn to be less needy, and more spiritual and unworldly. It wasn’t that at all: what he wanted was for them to desire MORE. He wanted them to ask him for more than those things that are good, but don’t really satisfy the real hunger. “Forget those loaves and fishes. I am offering you something so much better. Do you hear what I’m telling you: the one who comes to me will never be hungry again. And the one who puts his trust in me will never be thirsty again.” Their problem was not that they were demanding too much from him; it was that they were willing to be satisfied with too little.
The world is absolutely full of people who are desperately hungry, but who have no idea what they need to satisfy their hunger. It’s very popular to criticize young people today, because they spend hours playing video games or staring at their phones. But do we even know how many of them are feeding obsessively on electronic stimulation to stave off the hunger of feeling alone, the hunger of being isolated and picked on at school and ignored at home, the hunger of feeling stupid or hopeless or afraid or just different, the hunger of having no real sense that there is a future for them?
How many teenage girls and boys at Norwood-Norfolk High School end up in unhealthy sexual relationships to feed the hunger of feeling unwanted or unloved, of needing, at any cost, to belong somewhere? In the short time we were connected with the high school, we knew of several girls who got pregnant. How many of those babies were conceived out of desperate hunger? And how many of those babies will grow up in broken homes, with the same kinds of hunger?
How many of our older neighbors suffer the hunger of loneliness, and of feeling like they are no longer useful to anyone, with nothing but hours and hours of TV to stop those hunger pangs? So many of the people who come to our dinners need companionship, and some friendly conversation, so much more than they need the actual food we provide.
How many women, in our community and in our country, stay in abusive relationships because they are so hungry to be loved, to be secure, to have a place of belonging, that they are willing to suffer physical and emotional harm rather than risk the possibility of being alone?
And maybe in the most extreme cases, how many people experience the desperate hungers of depression or abuse or mental illness, and end up turning to alcohol or drugs or other addictions, just to stave off the hunger pains for one more day?
And, if we are honest, we have to admit that we are hungry people too. At times we all feel lonely, or sad, or bored, or useless, and how often do we find ourselves feeding our hunger with things that don’t really satisfy: with shopping, or with food we don’t want or need, or with keeping ourselves so busy that we can’t stop and think?
Jesus sees all of our hungers, and he cares deeply about them because he cares deeply about us. But he doesn’t command us to be less hungry, to desire less; he invites us to be more hungry, to desire more, to desire better. He invites us to desire what only he can give us, the only thing that can satisfy us completely. Because what he came to offer us is the never-ending love of the Father. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever puts his trust in him might live abundantly. Abundant life, a life in which the deepest hunger is satisfied.
And we remember, then, that when he saw the hungry multitudes, Jesus turned to the disciples. John remembers that he turned to Philip, and said, “Well, what are we going to feed all these people?” Matthew, Mark, and Luke just recall Jesus saying, “You give them something to eat.” And so as a church, we do all we can to care for people’s basic hungers: we make dinner, we donate to the food pantry, we support the lunch program and the snack pack program, we offer clothes and household needs in our Thrift Shop. But we must never forget that none of those things satisfies people’s deepest needs. All of those things are good and important, but they don’t offer abundant life. Only the love of God can do that. It is important, in the midst of all that we do, all our busy-ness and hard work, that we never forget, that people’s hunger is so much bigger than even they realize – and that the love of Christ is the most valuable, the ONLY truly non-perishable, food we have to offer.
I want to close by praying together – not just reciting together, but praying together – the Psalm we all know so well, Psalm 23, remembering that if God is our Shepherd we will never be in want. You’ll find it on page 612 in the Book of Common Prayer. Let us pray:
The Lord is my Shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.