Monday, August 3, 2015

The Hunger Is the Food

JOHN 6:24-35
24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." 28Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" 29Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
35Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

This passage brings out my inner snark. I’ll never  be hungry Jesus? Oh really? Really?  What are you going to do, Jesus, put in some spiritual feeding tube through my nose so I’ll always be full of your sweetness and light and inner contentedness? I just give my life to you, whatever that means, and suddenly I’ll never have those Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream binge nights or a sudden need for General Tso’s Chicken or the amazing pad thai from Smiling Banana Leaf on Bryant street in Highland Park? Suddenly I start channelling Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers in one of their “Really” skits. Really, Jesus? Oh Really?

‘Cause let me tell you something, Jesus. I’m hungry all. the. time. No. Not just when I’m pregnant, or hormonal or weepy after binge watching episodes of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

And not just for sweet cherries and grass-fed beef hamburgers or spicy shrimp tempura sushi. Hungry for all of it. For more time, and laughter and confidence and faith and hours at the park with my kids. I want more. More Decemberist concerts and more 50 minute hours with my therapist. More books and vacations and waves and sleepless nights with an infant and even more two-year old toddler assertions of independence. I’m hungry for more ministry and justice and equality and towns where people don’t get killed at traffic stops. 

I’m starving for more peace and more time and more trust that God is real. I’m hungry, Jesus. And in my 36 years of searching for you, you haven’t kept up your side of the bargain. You said I’d never be hungry again, and all I feel is hunger.

What gives? 

On a day when I really didn’t think I could believe in God for one more minute, I asked Dan, my husband and biblical-scholar-in-residence this question: “To what extent can we be sure that Jesus lived, that he loved people, that he believed in God, and that he changed the world?”  And Dan said, “well, with about as much certainty as we can believe anything that happened in ancient history.”

The Gospel of John loves to yank us around with metaphors that explain the signs and those signs that point to the truths which point to the koans which lead to the feedings that land us with more hunger. It’s my kinda gospel.

Once you think you’ve got a bubble of truth settled gently in your hand, it pops. Once you think you’ve pinned it down, it slides out from underneath your thumb. Once you feed five thousand people, they come back, hungry all over again.

I don’t think there’s an answer here. 

All I know is that there have been times in my life when I wasn’t hungry. When I didn’t want any more. When I was done. When pad thai tasted like sand and children’s laughter sounded like radio static. There was only disgust. No more sun or clouds or breeze or fascinating episodes of RadioLab. There was a time when I needed to be force fed more life through an emotional feeding tube and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. 

I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said I’d never be hungry again.

There’s this comic that a friend showed me that I really get a kick out of. It’s a picture of what it would look like if Jesus tried to feed the five thousand today. He’s standing on a hill, holding out the bread and the fish, offering it to the crowd. And then dialogue bubbles hover over the crowd’s heads that say, “I can’t eat that, I’m vegan.” And “Do you have a gluten free option?” And “Has that fish been tested for mercury?” 

My son has this scheme he tries to pull right at bedtime. Suddenly, he’s starving. He’s so hungry. So we say, “Ok. If you’re really hungry, you can have some carrots.” “No!” he says. “I want crackers. I want fruit snacks. I want Ninja Turtle cherry blast yogurt in a tube.”

And we tell him he can have carrots. And then he gives up and goes to bed —because he wasn’t really hungry in the first place - or maybe just too stubborn to acknowledge his real hunger.

I think we’ve all lost our hunger. And because of that, we refuse to be fed. We refuse to acknowledge what we really need — Even when Jesus is standing right in front of us, offering to us with outstretched arms, the things that we are really hungry for.

I want Ben and Jerry’s and wonder bread and warm glazed donuts right before bed, but what I really need are carrots. What I really need is to be made hungry for those carrots. For that bread. For those  fish. 

What I really need is to hunger for Jesus. 

In my work at The Table, our community meal we serve twice a week at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, I usually start the evening with a real love for people. I make the coffee just the way they like it. I use gloves to wrap the silverware in an attempt to keep them healthy. I stop to ask how folks are doing and to check up on their cats and their landlords and their tendonitis. 

I start the night saying to myself, “I love people. I’m doing what Jesus asks me to do. And I’m loving people with their Jesusy faces and their adorable humanness.” But usually, by the end of the night, I’ve been brought to the brink of my patience, I’ve been heartbroken by the stories of hepatitis C and pregnant drug overdoses and how Lita is excited because she sleeps in the fort at the playground where she used to play as a child because that keeps the rats away, and how Edward’s crippling mental illness forces him to be medicated beyond oblivion, and when I’ve tried to break up another fight between two guys with PTSD. All I can say is, “I love Jesus.” That’s all I’ve got. That’s all that’s left of my idealism and my delusions of Mother Teresa-ness. 
I leave The Table broken, annoyed, discouraged, but hungry, with a renewed love for Jesus.

Is that what Jesus means? You’re not going to be hungry again because you’re going to be hungry for me. It is one of those Zen Koans, isn’t it?

If you hunger for me, then you’ll feed people and forgive yourself and march in that protest and believe in something greater than yourself and your despair. If you hunger for me, that hunger will feed you.

Simone Weil said, “The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”

Believe in the bread, or don’t believe in the bread. Believe in God, or don’t. To us puny humans and our fickleness and our pain and need, I really don’t think it matters. 

It’s the hunger that feeds you. The hunger is the food.

‘Cause when you stop hungering, that’s when you’re in trouble. That’s when you need medical attention and some support from Western Psych. That’s when you stuff yourself full of white pasta and bad tv and pain pills and the belief that if I just get one more raise, if I just make it until my kids get to college, if I just finally get that house or that vacation or that one person to finally love me the way I deserve to be loved, and then I’ll start loving Jesus,  and then I’ll be full, and then I won’t be hungry anymore. 

But with about as much certainty as we can know that Julius Caesar was assassinated, that Virgil wrote the Aeneid, and that there was a man named Socrates, we are fed with this: Jesus lived, he loved people, he believed in God. He changed the world. 

We know just enough to be hungry for more.  

Maybe I don’t have enough faith to believe in God. But I know I’m hungry for more Jesus. And Jesus believes for me. I’m hungry for more Jesus. And I want that to be enough. 

The hunger is the food.

If the crowd had been satisfied with the Jesus they’d gotten out there in the wilderness in the form of a bread and fish lunch, they wouldn’t have crossed that lake, they wouldn’t have tracked him down. They’d have gone home. They’d go back to their shepherding and farming and handcrafting and American Ninja Warrior and had a great story about that one time they forgot their lunch and someone shared theirs with them. 

But that’s not what happens. They hunt Jesus down. They want more Jesus. They’re hungry for more Jesus. It’s when they say, “Sir, give us this bread always” that they’re truly fed. When they hunger, that’s when the feeding begins. 

And it’s that hunger for Jesus that truly feeds us. It’s the fleshy, glutenous, messy, sticky life of Jesus that truly feeds us. The hunger is the food.
Let’s be filled with the hunger for more Christ. 

Sir. Give us this bread always.


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