Feast Day: 12th Sunday After Pentecost
Lections: John 6:35, 41-51
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Human beings are hungry creatures and in our gospel reading from Saint John this morning we learn that Jesus Christ comes to address humankind’s hunger. What is it that you hunger for? What is it that your body and your soul, your very being, longs for and desires? I want you to know this morning that Jesus has something to say about that and that he has come to address that deepest of needs, that deepest longing, that deepest hunger that lies beneath all human hunger.
Human beings are hungry creatures. The narrative context of John chapter six helps us see this. The chapter began with the crowd following Jesus up a mountain. They are on a pilgrimage with Christ, if you will. And they are hungry. There aren’t any shops nearby and the disciples do not have much but there is a young boy who we learn has a bit of food—five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took this food and gave thanks for it and then had the disciples distribute it amongst the people and not only was the hunger of the crowd satisfied but there were leftovers.
When Jesus attempts to leave the crowd they track him down again the next day. Their hunger is starting to grow again, no doubt. Perhaps Jesus can feed them. “Ah,” Jesus says. “You are looking for me because yesterday you ate and had your fill. But you do not yet understand that that was a sign. There is food, you see, that does not perish but endures and God the Father wants to give you that food.” The crowd responds: “Sir, give us this bread always!” Human beings are hungry creatures.
So, the narrative context of our reading this morning places us in the midst of a hungry crowd. But there is a Scriptural context as well and it broadens the scope, placing us in the midst of a hungry Israel. Tucked away there towards the end of our reading Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”
Manna in the wilderness. This is, of course, a reference to the story of Israel. If you remember, Moses led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. They crossed over the Red Sea and began their forty year pilgrimage through the wilderness. No sooner had they been liberated from Egypt when they began to grumble and complain. “If only the Lord had of let us die in Egypt! At least we had food there. You’ve brought us out into the desert only to kill us with hunger!” So the Lord rained down bread from heaven and fed them. Manna in the wilderness. One theologian reflecting on that story commented: “For a people who often went hungry and struggled to earn their daily bread, this was the promise of promises, which somehow said everything there was to say: relief of every want—a gift that satisfied hunger for all and forever.”
Human beings are hungry creatures but our hunger for bread that perishes is ultimately a hunger for bread that endures. Our hunger—that is our manifold desires and longings for food yes but also for security, for belonging, for meaning and so on—is a sign that points to that which lies behind, below, and beyond our hunger for perishable things. Human beings are hungry creatures but we are hungry for God. All desire is finally a desire for him.
All of your longing is a longing for God, all of your desire is a desire for God, all of your hunger is a hunger for God. As Saint Augustine wrote: “The thought of you stirs [man] so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. We are hungry until we eat heavenly bread.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus Christ comes to address humankind’s hunger. He comes to address it by fulfilling it and he comes to fulfill it by giving us God: “He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world.”
When one comes to know Jesus Christ in this way their whole life changes. Indeed, when we trust in Jesus Christ—when anyone trusts in Jesus Christ—he turns their ordinary life of longing and desire and hunger into life with God, abundant life, eternal life. When you have Jesus Christ, when you know his love and his grace, you have everything and lack nothing.
How does one eat of this heavenly bread? How does one receive life that is no longer threatened by death? Listen to what Jesus himself says to us: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life… Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Whoever believes has eternal life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. In other words, faith in Jesus Christ is the way that we eat this heavenly bread and receive the life that he alone can give.
William Temple, once Archbishop of Canterbury, put it this way: “The mediator of the Father’s gift of life is the Son, and to believe on Him, to live by trust in Him, is to possess eternal Life…The life of faith does not earn eternal Life; it is eternal Life. And Christ is its vehicle.” That’s really important: one does not earn or merit eternal life by their faith in Christ; faith in Christ is eternal life. For when we receive the living Lord in faith, into our soul, his life becomes our life and we “live forever,” as Jesus says.
This raises an important question: Who can come and eat of this heavenly bread and receive the life that Jesus Christ gives? Is there some sort of religious test that must first be passed? Some moral rulebook that must first be mastered? Some special qualifications that must first be met? No! It does not matter who you are, it does not matter where you are from, it does not matter what you have done. “Whoever,” says Jesus. Whoever! “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
Are you hungry? Do you long to be filled? Then come to Jesus Christ. And do not think that because you once came to him that you no longer have any need to come. For we must never cease coming to Jesus Christ. Did you come to him as a child? Good. Do not cease to do so as an adult. Did you come to him yesterday? Good. Do not neglect coming to him today and tomorrow as well. For he calls each one of us personally to come to him each day, each moment. “Being a Christian can only take the form of becoming a Christian over and over again.”
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Human beings are hungry creatures and the one that lies behind all of our hunger is God, whom Jesus Christ comes to bring. Are you hungry? Come to Jesus. Come today. Give yourself to him in faith now and always, feed on the bread of life, and you will never be hungry again.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 265.
 Saint Augustine, Confessions I.1.
 William Temple, Readings in St John’s Gospel, 90.