I Am The Bread of Life
On March 14, 2014, designer L’Wren Scott shocked New York City. She shocked the city, because she committed suicide. And in the eyes of the watching world, she had it all. To look at her carefully curated Instagram feed, she was a 1-percenter, a gold-plated member of the international elite: There she was on vacation in India with boyfriend Mick Jagger; at his retreat on the island of Mustique; about to board a chartered helicopter; lounging poolside in gold jewelry and designer sunglasses; stretched out on a private plane, using her $5,000 Louis Vuitton handbag as a footrest.
“I always say luxury is a state of mind,” she told a reporter. “Because for me, it really is. It’s legroom, it’s a beautiful view, it’s great food at a great restaurant you’ve discovered because you obsessively read Zagat, as I do.”
And then, on Monday, March 19, 2014 she committed suicide, hanging herself in a $5.6 million apartment in Chelsea. Within hours, Scott’s life was revealed to have become an elaborate façade – her business at least $6 million in debt, her fashion-world friends and celebrity clientele unaware of her despair. Philip Bloch, a stylist for celebrities, said, “Ironically, last week I said to three different people, ‘I wish I had her life, look at her life – she’s always somewhere fabulous and fancy. You think, here’s someone who has it all. You just never know.’”
She’d made it. She had it all. And it didn’t satisfy her. At all. She was just 49 years old when she took her own life. Today we’re starting a new series of sermons on the “I AM statements of Jesus.” The seven times in John’s gospel when Jesus says “I am …” I AM the light of the world. I AM the door. I AM the good shepherd. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the way, the truth, and the life. And today, we’re looking at his words, “I AM the bread of life.” Turn with me to John 6:35-39.
So, Jesus is fairly popular right now. He is amazing people with his teaching, and he’s doing miracles and healing all kinds of people. And he’s actually kind of trying to get away with his disciples for some peace and quiet. You know, a little R and R. But the rather large crowd he’s attracted always seems to find him. So he thinks he’s found a quiet place in the wilderness to enjoy the Passover meal with his disciples, when he looks up and sees a large crowd heading toward them. And by large, I mean really large. Like 5,000 men, plus women and children large.
And, in addition to healing their sick, he feeds them all. With five loaves of bread and two fish, he feeds them all. Thousands upon thousands. Until everyone has had as much as they want, AND everyone is completely satisfied. And there are leftovers.
And the people are so blown away, they try to make him king by force. They’ve seen his power over and over again healing the sick and the disabled. And now they’ve seen this incredible sign from God. And it wasn’t an insignificant sign. Because there was a rabbinic story well known to most Jews that when Messiah came, he would repeat the miracle of the manna in the wilderness that God had performed to feed the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness outside the Promised Land for 40 years.
So they’re sure the Messiah has come, which he has, but they misunderstand what the Messiah is going to do, and so they try to make him King of the Jews by force. It was a miracle that featured bread multiplying, and it fed into a popular view of the Messiah as the one who would renew the miracle of the manna in the wilderness.
But Jesus is having none of it. We don’t know how he quieted the mob and potential rebellion, but he did, and he sent his disciples down to the Sea of Galilee to head across the lake to try to find another quiet place, and he tells them he’ll join them later. And as the disciples are sailing across the lake at night, so the crowds won’t be able to see where they’re going and they can rest, a massive storm comes up, and the disciples, no less than a third of which were seasoned sailors who had grown up on the lake, are terrified. And Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.
And on they sail to Capernaum. And then the crowd realizes that while they only saw the disciples leave, Jesus isn’t there anymore either, and so they get into boats and sail in off in the same direction they saw the disciples sail off in, and they wind up in Capernaum and find the disciples AND Jesus there. And they’re like, “Dude. We didn’t see you leave. How did you get here so fast?” And Jesus starts talking to them about bread, because it was in seeing the bread multiply the day before that they got all excited and worked up about him.
So what does bread represent to us, anyway? It represents being fed, doesn’t it? It represents the meeting of our needs. The manna in the wilderness was God’s sustaining of his people for 40 years. It was God meeting real needs for real people. His people were hungry, and longing for the food they imagined they had left behind in Egypt, and so God fed them. At most restaurants, bread in some form accompanies most meals. Our food rescue tables are often covered with bread for people to take with them. Bread represents the broken body of Christ at the Communion Table. Most of us love the smell of freshly baked bread. It gets our mouths watering and our tummies grumbling because we can almost taste the satisfying swallow of a warm piece of bread. When the crowds kept pressing in on Jesus, and became hungry, he fed them. Miraculously, for sure. But he fed them. He met their physical needs, just like we do in his name through the food pantry and community meal as we seek to follow Jesus. Physical needs are real needs, and we need to meet them, just like Jesus did.
On magazine article took a look at bread by the numbers. Here’s what they found …
3,975 The number of feet of the longest loaf of bread in the world, made at a bakers’ party in Portugal in 2005. When sliced, it fed over 15,000 people.
1777 The year wheat was first planted (as a hobby crop) in the United States.
1928 The year pre-sliced bread was invented in Chillicothe, Missouri, after being worked on for 16 years.
12.6 The grams of protein in a 3.5 ounce serving of hard red winter wheat, almost equal to the grams of protein in the same serving of soybeans.
10 The years a family of four could live off the bread produced by one acre of wheat.
6 The number of wheat classifications: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, durum (hard), hard white, soft white.
1.25-2 The hours it takes for Saccharomyces cerevisiae (common bread yeast) to double in numbers, making it easily cultured.[i]
Jesus even tells us to pray, “Give us this day our … daily bread.” He wants the needs of his people to be met. He doesn’t want any in this great human family to suffer. And those of us who have more are to help those of us who have less.
But as humans, our appetites are easily perverted. The quest for bread becomes perverted. Twisted. Wants and desires, things we don’t need, become needs. Bigger houses. Better jobs that pay more money to pay for more nice toys. Power and influence. We look for satisfaction from things that cannot satisfy.
And as followers of Christ, we aren’t immune from this. People come into churches looking for real bread, looking for Jesus, and what do they so often get? Six steps to a happy marriage and four steps to investing your money in the Kingdom of God. They get sermons about political stands that only mention Jesus in passing. The people whose appetites had been satisfied with multiplying fish and bread on the mountainside tried to kidnap Jesus and make him king. They saw Jesus through their preconceived notions of who the Messiah should be and what the Messiah should do. They wanted to shove Jesus into their box and boundaries, and use him for their own ends. And we do the same thing. We don’t come to Jesus with open hearts and minds, bowing our knees before our Savior who is also our Lord. We come with an agenda, and he’s our genie in a bottle. Bless my business. Bless my family. Make my life easy, or at least easier. But don’t ask anything of me. Rubberstamp my political views. Let me use you to get elected, or stay elected, but don’t ask me to give up anything. I’m not interested in costs. Only benefits.
So when the people find Jesus in Capernaum, he tells them, “All you want is more bread. That’s why you’ve come. Because I filled your bellies. I met your needs.” And what do they do? They ask for ANOTHER sign. Five loaves and two fish fed every one of them, thousands upon thousands. Their lame were walking with them. Former lepers and the formerly demon possessed too. Those who had been blind and deaf. They were all there, whole and healthy and a part of the community again. But they wanted another sign. They wanted the manna from heaven again. They had no idea that Jesus had just done it in the loaves and fish. And so he tells them that he, himself, is what they are looking for. Look at V. 33. He tells them he’s the bread, the sustenance they want and need, and they don’t get it. So he makes it clear. Look at V. 35.
The people living in Palestine under Roman rule knew what food insecurity really feels like. They often didn’t know when their next meal would come or where it would come from. And Jesus made it very clear that it’s just fine to seek God for sustenance. “Give us this day our daily bread.” They understood like we never will what it means to pray that kind of prayer every day. They’re focused on survival in this world for good reason. And if they have someone who can provide the bread and fish in abundance whenever its needed, surely he can drive the Romans out and provide for them the safety and security and dignity they so desperately seek. And Jesus doesn’t ignore this reality. “Give us this day our daily bread.” But he wants them to see his ministry through a new lens too. He refuses to climb into their box and allow them to use him for their goals and ends. He acknowledges and meets, again and again, their very real human, physical needs. But he points them to something more. He wants their completely human, worldly view to expand. He wants them to put their eyes on the Kingdom of God. “The bread I have provided for you isn’t what you want or need. I am. I am the bread of life.”
Not political power and influence and a powerful presence at the polls. Not health and wealth and success in this world’s eyes. Not power and influence in the business world. Not untouchable security in this world. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. “I am the bread of life.” In his incredible book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”[ii]
Bread satisfies and strengthens for a time. Oh, we need it. God does not expect us to go long periods of time without eating. But no matter how often we eat, we WILL hunger again. When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” he’s telling us that he will satisfy and strengthen us in a way that nothing in this world can. Jesus is the bread, the sustenance and strengthening, of life. Real life.
Funny thing about bread though. It doesn’t do you any good sitting in a basket on the table. Oh, it looks good and smells good. But it doesn’t sustain and strengthen you unless you consume it. And you can’t halfway consume it. It’s all or nothing. You either eat it or you don’t. Look again at V. 35. “Whoever comes whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” There is a hunger and a thirst that is deeper than the physical, and so often, when we think we’re just meeting physical needs, we’re trying to meet spiritual needs. We long for the eternal, and we only see the temporal, and so that’s where we turn to meet eternal needs, and we wonder why we’re hungry again two hours later, why no amount of success or fulfillment in this world truly satisfies. Jesus doesn’t want us to just look at him in the bread basket, take a sniff, acknowledge his existence, and move on. He wants us to eat until we are filled. It’s no mistake that we consume bread as a part of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, that he chose broken bread, sustenance, to represent his broken body.
In an interview with NPR, former Beatles star Paul McCartney said:
It seems to me that no matter how famous [you are], no matter how accomplished or how many awards you get, you’re always still thinking there’s somebody out there who’s better than you. I’m often reading a magazine and hearing about someone’s new record and I think, “Oh, boy, that’s gonna be better than me.” It’s a very common thing.
The interviewer then asked, “But, Sir Paul McCartney: You have had success in so many dimensions of music. You really feel a competitive insecurity with somebody else that’s coming out with a record?” McCartney replied: “Unfortunately, yes … I should be able to look at my accolades and go, ‘Come on, Paul. That’s enough.’’ But there’s still this little voice in the back of my brain that goes, ‘No, no, no. You could do better. This person over here is excelling. Try harder!’ It still can be a little bit intimidating.”[iii] No amount of success is ever enough.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” I will satisfy, sustain, and strengthen you like nothing in this world can. Go ahead and pray for your real human needs to be met. “Give us this day our daily bread,” like the manna in the wilderness that spoiled if it was saved. But recognize your need and desire for something more. And come to me. I won’t let you down. I promise. Let us pray.
[i] Adapted from The Editors, “Wheat and Bread By the Numbers,” The Behemoth (3-19-15)
[ii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperCollins, 1952)
[iii] NPR Staff, “What Makes Paul McCartney Nervous?” NPR’s All Things Considered (10-15-13)