John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said to the people, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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."
The people with whom Jesus is speaking were among those Jews who received the loaves of bread that fed five thousand. Apparently the next day they were hungry for more so went looking for Jesus. When they found and began to question him, Jesus said to them, ”Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life… (6.27) …my Father gives you the bread from heaven.” (6.32) With just a few words Jesus switched hands from the literal to the metaphorical, “I am the bread of life.” The writer of John’s text wants us to move from seeking the physical (manna, loaves of bread and signs of Jesus’ identity) to seeking the divine (life in the Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Which raises the question for me, “Am I willing to find my life sustaining “bread” in relationship with Jesus and God the Father?"
If I chose to respond to this invitation literally (physically) I would react as did the Jews who “disputed among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”” (6.52) As the disciples noted, “This teaching is difficult.” (6.60) And that is precisely what faith is about, things that we cannot wrap our minds around. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11.1) Holding a loaf of bread in my hands I have no need for faith. I can touch and see the weight and substance of the loaf, and it will temporarily relieve my physical hunger. But to experience the life giving qualities of abundance, satisfaction, fulfillment, even joy I must look beyond the physical and find my life in Jesus, that I might live in him and he in me.
We are all moved by hunger for something more and have oh so creatively contrived means to sate our desires; acquisition of food, wealth, property, power, status, partners, perpetual youth. This is nothing new to the human condition. You can read about it in the Old Testament in stories of King David, in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or People Magazine. The thing is, the deepest desire of our hearts cannot be satisfied by anything physical. The deepest desire of our hearts invites us to discover that which is beyond the physical in the physical, to find divinity in the flesh.
I believe we all have glimpses of divinity in the flesh, moments when the veil between the physical and spiritual realms is pulled aside. For a chef it might happen while holding a sheaf of parsley in his hand, reverently inspecting the curl of the leaves and twists of the stems while rubbing a bit between his tongue and palate. A new parent might get a glimpse sniffing the scent of their fresh bathed infant or a music lover following the decrescendo of a plaintiff melody. It could be the smell of rain on the desert or the look in your dying friend’s eyes. I believe we all have had glimpses of the divine in the flesh.
It is this to which Jesus invites us to find our life, our true and eternal life. It is the very flesh of this life that draws us to reach (and taste) something more.