Link to Lectionary Texts: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp13_RCL.html
A personal memory if you don’t mind.
I have never really been able to put my finger right on the pulse of this memory of church when I was a kid, and as vibrant as the memory is the feeling and images are vague and dreamlike.
It is the memory of listening to stories about Jesus at a very young age and knowing, without the words to say it at the time, that there was a huge disconnect between the story and it’s hero and all the grown ups and families around me.
Sitting there in that little Tudor-style Episcopal Church, a kind of British country chapel design, which was pretension as hell sitting there just off the downtown of Muncie, Indiana, I knew that the adults listening to those stories about Jesus didn’t really believe them.
I didn’t know anyone who believed in turning the other cheek – not really.
I never heard adults talk about loving Russians or Cubans as we love ourselves.
I never heard anyone tell a story with a punch line like that of The Prodigal Son, except Jesus.
I never saw a widow with only one penny to her name put her last one in the collection plate, and I was pretty sure no there was giving away all their stuff to people who didn’t have it.
I remember sitting there in that little church with its darkly stained wood and colorfully stained glass and knowing without words that all those adults in their coats and ties, furs, and looking-good-selves didn’t really believe what Jesus was saying or doing but they would be very polite to him about it.
Nowadays adults call this a BS Detector and children generally have them in spades. If you will pardon my saying so, it is what my friend calls “the Battleship-mouth-and-rowboat-ass Syndrome.”
Of course, as I got older I cam to understand this disconnect between Jesus and our political, economic and theological beliefs and values. At first, like a great many adolescence, I rejected Jesus for the same reasons my parents and the adults around me kept him at a polite distance and because I would rather be a damned heathen than an obvious hypocrite. (As we age, the benefits of hypocrisy over unvarnished honesty seem to dawn on most of us).
To take Jesus seriously is not safe or dependable for people of privilege people like us. Which brings me to the question today, “How is Jesus the ‘Bread’ of life?”
Of course that metaphor itself, Jesus as bread, is far removed from us in any practical sense. For Jesus, and those who knew him, bread was the main course. Bread, like rice throughout Asia, is what kept millions of people going.
For people of affluence in many parts of the world today, bread makes a sandwich.
For many of the people reading this, bread is not the main thing but a sort of napkin on the side we nibble. Isn’t that the origins of the sandwich, something to grab and eat meat in order to keep on playing cards or chess and not get everything all greasy?
Anyway, Jesus is bread meant he is the primary staple of diet – the main source of calories.
Jesus is the food: the filler, the sustainer and the daily comfort of security in a world in which you never knew if there was going to be enough to eat the next day. Jesus was today’s manna and that was enough for today!
Jesus, like bread, was the only thing on a daily basis standing between you and hunger, you and starvation, you and death.
But most of us don’t really believe that – either about Jesus or about bread. We have no experience of it unless we went through a disaster or some other enormous but unusual sudden deprivation. Heck, thousands if not millions of us go on diets that eliminate bread so we can loose weight!
That is how we know, by the way, that we are privileged. Of the seven billion or so people who inhabit the earth only a very small number of us don’t give any thought to whether or not we will be able to eat tomorrow. Some of us may have had such a worry once but it is likely if you are reading this post then it is a distant memory now. (In the U.S., a family of four earning $50,000 makes 13 times the world’s average income – and lives among the global 8%).
I don’t bring up the difference between us and the other seven billion so that we can waddle in guilty feelings – survivor’s guilt is a particularly useless and destructive emotion if we allow ourselves to tread water in it. I bring it up so that we can stand the figure of Jesus up next to the comparison that was given him by his earliest followers: Jesus is the Bread of Life! In other words, Jesus is the thing that makes the difference between wellness and suffering, between life and death.
I live with Jesus every day in my life in one way or another, and the dramatic nature of this original metaphor rarely pierces my awareness. For me, as for many of us, Jesus is someone whose teaching we study and whose wisdom, if we are fortunate and diligent, will influence and even changes our lives sometimes.
Like Buddha, Moses, Mohammad, or even the mythical Lao Tzu, in their respective religions, Jesus is the one who both gave and represents the core wisdom of our spiritual tradition as Christians. But for us religion and spirituality are frosting on the cake of life in which we don’t have to worry about survival.
I am not sure I know what to do with this difference between our spiritual ancestors, who mostly lived by daily bread, and us who can appreciate Jesus from a historical distance but certainly do not live and die by him. And maybe all I want to do is be honest about it in a way that I never heard in my childhood church.
Maybe all we can do is notice this difference. Maybe we can only just put it out there that Jesus could be the bread of life if we were that hungry or that needy or that desperate, but we have lots of food and shelter and security so he is a comforting curiosity that we do not really understand or fully appreciate.
Jesus is an opportunity waiting to happen, how about that? I would much rather keep integrity with regard to Jesus than hypocrisy, wouldn’t you?
So here’s the thing.
We are all Prodigals – people who have squandered our inheritance and been abysmal stewards of that which is entrusted to us. And we know, because of Jesus, what happens to Prodigals: They are loved and embraced and forgiven.
We are all like the earnest rich young man – people who cannot squeeze through the eye of the needle of justice, if ever a cosmic court was to be convened. And we know, because of Jesus, what that inability means for fat cats like us: With God all things are possible (and we will be squeezed through that needle of justice because we are loved and embraced and forgiven).
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not preaching complacency here.
I do believe Jesus is the Bread of life just like his early associates claimed. But, like many of us, I am not hungry enough to make him my main course. I am not desperate or needy enough to take Jesus seriously enough to get myself well in the way that Jesus might heal me.
But honesty is the first step toward wellness.
So Jesus is an opportunity waiting to happen for us and for all those who are injured by us in the way we live and how we act and in what we do.
Perhaps that is how we can increase our hunger for Jesus: compassion for others who live in our wake.
Perhaps if we were to practices increasing our capacity to hold the pain of those who live in the wake of our affluence and war mongering, we would become hungrier, needier, and more desperate for Jesus.
Perhaps that is how we can live with integrity about Jesus: understanding that if we were to truly embrace Jesus as the bread of life, it would be a mercifully good thing for all those who must live in our wake.
Maybe Jesus is the bread, which if eaten by us, would save others? Perhaps fewer people would strangle and die in our wake if we ate more of that Jesus bread as the mainstay of our diet.