Just before our reading today is the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. Just after our reading the disciples, the large crowd that had been following and learning from Jesus, comment that what he has been teaching is hard–hard to understand, maybe hard to live–and most of them leave. All that is left with Jesus is the 12. Simon Peter says we have nowhere to go because you have the words of eternal life, abundant life, whole life. As soon as I might wonder why people left, I look again at what Jesus said and it is really easy to land at “no one knows what you’re saying Jesus.” But again, it’s a big enough deal that some people left so it must have been a big deal.
I remember one day when I was working it the restaurant and the bartender pulled out their latest tip for us to see. It was $100 folded, but when you unfolded it, there it would tell you that the real treasure was Heaven. Which is fine, I guess, but it doesn’t help the bartender pay her rent.
Tracks, which I guess still exist, have been used to explain one person’s interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus to everyone and anyone. They primarily seem to want to help you answer the question: If you were to die today, where would you go? Because for many, that is the ultimate question–a spiritual life mostly unrelated to the one that we are currently living.
For many, John is often the 1st gospel that is suggested to be read. Read in part I’m sure it’s because it’s the shortest. It also seems to be so heavy on its theology focusing, on what one needs to do to be able to be saved. And I’m sure part of that comes from texts like this, where Jesus seems to be expounding on the spiritual nature of all things, the spiritual nature of him and food as spiritual.
But it also seems that maybe they’ve missed the point because the Gospel begins with the word becoming flesh and abiding among us. The flesh becomes the utmost importance right off the bat for this Gospel writer. And then, even if it is with some encouragement, Jesus supports the celebration of a new family, heals a child, and feeds thousands who were hungry. There is a physical, fleshy, embodied-ness to Jesus in this Gospel.
When the miracle is complete, the people understood what had happened as the point of why Jesus was there. They were so overwhelmed, so enamored, so excited about what Jesus was doing that they wanted to make Jesus their king, force him to be king. They were living in a time when the Empire, the King, used food as a means of control, but if Jesus were king… they could be free.
Jesus had to sneak off on his own before he got back to explain to them what they just saw–the point isn’t the miracle, that’s why the author calls them signs. They are signs that point to what Jesus is doing and teaching.
And the sign points to: Eat Jesus.
I’m not surprised folks walked away.
So I was thinking about how we eat. Maybe how I eat. Sometimes it’s in a hurry. I’ll go through the drive-through because I was working too late. Or I’ll get one of those croissant and egg sandwiches that has been sitting under the heat lamp at Kwik Trip. For no reason I can’t really understand, because I didn’t fight with my sister for food, I often eat quickly, maybe not even enjoying my food. When I’m at home and easily distracted, I wander around and search for snacks, which I’ve had to stop buying so there are none.
They say, there is a rush of dopamine when you eat something sweet, but we also know that too much will cause sugar and dopamine crash. They say eating oatmeal every day for breakfast will help your heart and cholesterol and all kinds of other things. They say we are not actually built to drink milk into our adulthood. They say that the health of the bacteria and flora in your gut can affect your mental health. They say those who eat extremely spicy food are hot headed.
Science seem to be catching up with the old saying that you are what you eat. What we consume becomes a part of us. The atom and molecules become part of who we are, they change us.
The prophet Ezekiel, who we talked about during advent with his vision of the field of dry bones, also had a vision, dream, experience, trip where he received from God the Torah and was instructed to eat it and it tasted sweet, like honey.
I wonder if you have ever been really thirsty, or really hot, or maybe really cold. And you have that drink of water, cold water when you’re hot or hot water when you were cold. And you can feel it moving down your throat. And you know it might not be true, but you can feel it radiating throughout your body, changing your temperature.
That’s what I imagine it was like for Ezekiel, tasting that scroll, the words for God, the instructions for how to live in relationship with God and with God’s people. It became a part of him, the molecules and the atoms, the words and the teachings, every letter changed who Ezekiel was and changed the way he lived in the world.
Jesus is the word made flesh and said whoever eats of my flesh will have whole, abundant, and eternal living, and will be satisfied.
But there are other things than food that we consume. In the 80’s it was music and in the 90’s it was video games. They were pointed to as the cause of all kinds of other “evils” in the world from teenage dancing to drug use to school shootings. And not judging the merits of your favorite songs, but I bet there are a lot of songs that you have passively consumed and could recite every word of, they have become part of who you are.
I think about what and how we consume. We binge. We can watch whole television series in a single weekend. We can order anything we want from the comfort of our homes, with a click, and without consideration of the cost or before having to evaluate the need. We consume instantaneously.
And we do it blindly. We want exotic fruits, honestly, we want any fruits in the winter. And they travel thousands of miles, across land and sea. We only travel a little ways to pick it up at our grocery stores, blind to the carbon and environmental cost.
The desire to consume and the need for more, we know that this isn’t good for us because we have a whole tv show Hoarders centered around making entertainment out of what happens when consuming and acquiring to fill whatever need or void becomes pathological.
It’s individual and it’s corporate.
The US Bureau of International Labor estimated that there were still 1.5 million children working in the cocoa and chocolate industry, although, working assumes they are being paid. The cocoa they harvest goes to Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s, and more. In June, the Supreme Court denied those who had been victims of the slave and trafficking practices of the farms these companies bought from to sue the companies.
And there are 40,000 children in cobalt mines-the mineral that is primary in lithium batteries, the kinds that fill our phones and computers. Need skyrocketed during COVID while we, as a culture, were all deciding we needed more. And the companies need to earn more, to prioritize the earning of wealth over the care of people, children.
We are told in hundreds of ways every day that we need more. Or better, or new. Our culture, our society, nut just our economy is centered in capitalism–and a credit based capitalism at that. One that prioritizes spending and debt, binging and blindness.
We have crowned kings those who have accumulated the most. Those who are able to give us the food or the entertainment, the bread or the circuses. They keep us giving us almost enough while keeping us hungry to want more.
Jeff Bezos is having a yacht built that is so large, that to get it from where it is being built to, I assume him, they are going to have to take apart a bridge. Not a bridge they use there is Rotterdam but one they seem to care about. Which is really the fault of the company who is building it because, this plan is ridiculous, but also, it’s 415 feet long. Almost 1 ½ football fields. A boat. Why? What is? How much money do you have to have to think that is necessary? Do you think this is what is going to make him happy? Satisfy him?
Speaking of football. Let’s pretend for a minute that it isn’t filled with all kind of issues. We get the Super Bowl and if you’re not into the game you’ve probably said, “I just watch the commercials.” I know I have. It’s hours of advertising that remind us that we are not man enough without this truck, cool enough without this drink, exciting enough without this snack, happy enough without this … whatever, it’s always something. Something more, something different, something other. And we take it in. We make it part of who we are. We start to think things will be better if I have… We start to think what I just need is… We start to think I need this more than them… Maybe we start to envy someone. We start to wonder if we’d be happier if we had what they had. Maybe not a 400 foot yacht but a nicer house, newer car, better vacations.
The world is feeding us a way of life that keeps us longing. And it does that so that we will internalize it, that it will become our life force, our generating force that keep us looking, searching, spending, consuming. The world sells us on the idea of satisfaction after this one more thing, but systems of the world can only continue if we stay fed on its food of longing and never being satisfied.
What Jesus is doing is presenting an alternative way of life that is possible when you have taken in as an vital part of your life Jesus. When in your life force is generated of and when you drink of the living water and eat of the Bread from heaven.
It means taking Jesus into ourselves, the life and the teachings, the death and resurrection, into who we are. It means that Jesus becomes part of who we are, and we are changed. Jesus abides in us and us in Jesus and we are changed by what we have consumed. And that change includes not being caught up in the systems and cycles of the world that tell us we are not enough until because we are already filled, already loved, already satisfied.
Jesus’ flesh changes the way you live in the world. It is a spiritual transformation of the flesh–of who you are and how you live in the world. The way of Jesus isn’t spiritual and heavenly focus, it is embodied, it is flesh, it is human. It is a tangible reality that isn’t simply a spiritual way in which we think or believe in our heads or our hearts but it is a physical reality that changes the way we live in the world.
It means that our enfleshed-ness is in the way of Christ and in the way of the world, because we believe what we consume will transform us and make us into something. And the way of Christ transforms the way we inhabit the world. So that, when we are in the world and we find someone, or 5000 someones without enough to eat, we don’t first think of the cost, instead, remember the infinite God who can make abundance out of our meager loaves and fishes. It means that we make different decisions when we buy our food, or clothing, or chocolate or coffee. It means it matters where we invest our money and what they are doing with it. It means it has to matter that there are children being sold into slavery and where the Super Bowl and Olympics go–there also is a boom in sex trafficking. It means it matter how we vote on Tuesday and it matter that either way, we continue to live in the world as Jesus lived–generous, compassionate, friends with the wrong people, calling out the powerful, healing the earth and each other.
Taking in Jesus this way changes us. It changes our enfleshedness with a new way of being in the world based in Jesus Spirit. We can’t any longer be consumers of the world, we can’t follow the one who offers us just bread, we can’t make kings out of those who promise us material satisfaction. We do and we become something different, a life abiding in Jesus, changed by consuming living bread, living an embodied life in the embodiment of Jesus.
And it’s really hard to do.
It is counter-cultural, even now, 2000 years later. We’re not going to live in this world given to us by the consumeristic economy. We’re not going to live in this world that demands we take more and more while neglecting the lives of others, that tells us we need more to be OK, that tell us we are here to take and acquire and to not count the cost that it might have on others. It means we are not going to continue to be consumers of that which will never satisfy, no matter how hard we try. We’re going to live in a world in which we’re satisfied, in a world where Jesus abides in us and we in Jesus. And that is going to make us generous, having us looking out for the well-being other others instead of just ourselves. It’s going to mean saying no to some things, changing we have always lived, because we are changed at an molecular level by the Christ who lives in us.
When we come together, when we come to the table, when we worship together and learn together, when we eat of the flesh and the blood, the bread and the fruit, this is what we are agreeing to. We are agreeing to live a life of the word made flesh. That we are going to live our enfleshed lives that are a reflection of the abiding presence of Jesus in our lives and not that of the world. And that ought to radically change how we live in this world. That ought to make us more generous and kind, more forgiving and repentant, we ought to offer healing and stand up for the vulnerable, it will make us friends with the wrong people and it will make the powerful uncomfortable.
It might make us uncomfortable. Jesus lost some followers right here. But growing and learning and becoming is a work in progress, and we won’t always get it right.
But that is who we are called to be, who we are being made to be, a life embodied, and life abiding in and with. And over time and continuing to abide, and eat, we learn and become. So when it’s hard, may that give you courage and strength to follow another day. Because Jesus has the words of abundant, whole, and eternal life that satisfies.