A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Jesus, the Bread of Life: Nourishing the Real Hunger
August 3, 2003
Ordinary Sunday 18 John 6:24-35
Much is made in the Bible of bread, including the well known expression, "Man cannot live on bread alone." Of course, the processed bread we experience is a far cry from the unleavened bread of Bible times. Still, bread gets a bad rap these days. For example, there is a group in America called the Partnership for a Bread-Free America. They produce a tongue-in-cheek document called 'BEWARE OF BREAD!' Some of the facts include:
1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.
2. HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized intelligence tests.
3. Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water begged for bread after as little as two days.
4. Bread is often a "gateway" food item, leading the user to "harder" items such as jam, peanut butter, and even cold meats.
5. More than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread.
6. Many bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.
Since the Metro magazine came out early this week, some of my personal habits have now become quite public. So, it will be no surprise for me to tell you that I have been living for the most part without bread for some time now. The Atkin's Diet is all about high protein and low carbohydrate intake.
If Dr Atkins was exegeting today's gospel text he would say that it is the protein which is the food that endures unto eternal life. He would say the carbs are the food that is perishing. While I don't advocate a strict observance of the Atkin's Diet, it has nevertheless taught me some important lessons about myself. It has made me more aware of what goes into my body and has conquered my addiction to sugar. It has made me realise the Taoist principle of losing weight, that a consistently content stomach rather than an empty stomach is the way to a flatter gut. In fact according to the diet you eat more; more fat, but less sugar and certainly less bread.
Above all it was one of the changes I have made in my life this year which has made me feel more connected to my body, which I believe is part of being more connected to my spirit. I learnt about the variety of hungers, which hunger to feed and what to feed it to sustain it more lastingly.
When Jesus describes himself as the bread of life, I suspect he is hinting at connected spirits or a nourished heart; that experience of being deeply in tune with our hopes and purposes in life. I would define a connected spirit as having closely aligned our present reality and our dreams and expectations for life. Maybe it could be described as just that right blend of realism and idealism. Maybe a connected spirit is being so in tune with our convictions that our practice falls easily in line.
I get a sense that society is craving for spiritual nourishment at present. With rapid social changes, I sense that people can easily lose their sense of identity and connection. So there is great hunger to be fed with meaning and value filled ideas. The problem so often with a disconnected spirit is that we feed the wrong animal.
There is a story which makes the point well. It is about a man who bought a parrot to fill some of his lonely hours. The very next day, however, he went back to complain, "That bird doesn't talk."
The store owner asked if he had a mirror in its cage, and the man said he didn't. "Oh, parrots love mirrors," he explained. "When he sees his reflection in the mirror, he'll just start talking away."
The bird owner was back the next day to gripe that his parrot still hadn't said a word. "That's very peculiar," said the pet expert. "How about a swing? Birds really love these little swings, and a happy parrot is a talkative parrot." But he was back the next day with the same story. "Does he have a ladder to climb?" the salesman asked. "That just has to be the problem. Once he has a ladder, he'll probably talk your ear off!"
The man was back at the pet store when it opened the next day. "Didn't your parrot like the ladder?" he asked. His repeat customer looked up and said, "The parrot died. He did however finally speak." "What did he say?" the shopkeeper asked. "Well," said the customer, "in a weak little voice, he asked me, 'Don't they sell any bird seed at that pet store?'"
There's nothing wrong with vanity, with taking care of physical looks. There's nothing wrong with ambition, getting ahead in career and life. There's nothing wrong with acquiring possessions and having our toys to amuse us. The problem is when we line our lives, like a cage, with these things thinking that they will satisfy our deepest longings. Our hearts need real nourishment.
There is no better example of feeding the wrong animal than eating disorders. One woman who had suffered with an eating disorder for many years described the experience like this: "My whole day revolved around food. I really felt like I was in jail. I couldn't break out. There was no freedom. There was no me left, it was just this disorder taking over my life. I'm no longer abusing food. I found other things in my life to replace what I was asking the food to do. My whole eating disorder was really about a disconnection from my own spirit, me not listening to my inner voices and not being able to trust them. "A doctor who specialises in eating disorders described it like this: "Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a disorder of disconnection, disconnection from feelings and from self. Over involvement with food and 'food thoughts" are the ways people with BED self-regulate intense feeling states."
Maybe food is not your weakness. Maybe for you, the longing for recognition, the longing for fame or fortune drives your hunger. We end up in cycles which are never satisfied. We get hurt by them, recognise that they are like sugar, short lived and addictive, yet go after them again the next time.
As human beings we find our true hope in our spirit. We need connected spirits to keep our life in balance. Jesus is the bread of life, our inspiration for life lived consistently; practices matching belief.
Bread, despite its pitfalls, is an important food and symbol around the world. In most cultures bread symbolises so much more than the ingredients: In Egyptian the word for bread means literally 'life'. In Eastern Europe and the Middle East bread symbolises community and welcome. In our worship tradition, bread is central. The bread is broken, reminding us that Jesus took all our disconnection in his broken body. The broken bread is brought together again, reminding us that Jesus is the bread of life, who inspires us to reconnect with our spirits.
So, as we break and share bread today, let us reflect on our lives; the areas where we need to reconnect with our spirit, the areas where we need to reconnect with our dreams and hopes, the people we need to reconnect with, the earth we need to reconnect with, the broken people, families and structures in our world which need reconnection.
Let us be mindful in this communion of the appetites of our hearts, the false hungers, and the deep longing for spiritual nourishment. Finally, let us remember the words of Robert Farrar Capon.
"We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great."