This time of year was always super exciting to me when I was growing up. I freaking loved the holidays. I loved all the lights and glitter. I loved getting to gorge myself on green bean casserole and stuffing and pumpkin pie and candy and all the other rich foods my family cooks up this time of year. And of course I looked forward with excitement to getting presents – the more plasticky and garishly colored, the better.
But as I’ve gotten older, some things have changed. I still enjoy the feasting, though some of those rich foods now give me heartburn… or worse… And I’m still a sucker for lights and glitter and toys. But I find myself hungering for more. Now that I am all grown up and living alone, I find myself hungering for time spent with my family (which was something I totally took for granted when I was a kid). I hunger for love and connection and meaning.
I’ve learned that the superficial stuff that fed me as a kid just isn’t enough to satisfy me anymore. I am hungry for something more.
In our gospel reading for this evening, this is exactly what Jesus is trying to urge his listeners to do: to hunger for something more. He had fed over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and a couple of fish just the day before. And those people woke up hungry the next day, so they come looking for him all the way on the other side of the sea.
And it’s actually kind of a funny moment when they find him. The crowd has literally been combing the seaside, looking for Jesus, but when they find him, they play it cool like, “Oh hey, Rabbi! Fancy meeting you here! Small world!” But of course Jesus instantly sees through this and is just like, “Yeah, no. I know you’re all just here for the bread.” And he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes – I just fed you yesterday, and here you are again, already hungry. But work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. I have so much more to offer you.”
Don’t try to satisfy yourself with what is temporary or cheap. Be hungry for something more.
The crowds complain to Jesus that their ancestors got to eat manna in the wilderness – “Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat!” they say. It’s interesting to read this passage side by side with our first reading from Deuteronomy. In this reading, we actually see those same ancestors talking about what they have received from God, giving thanks as God has taught them to do. But you’ll notice that they don’t even mention manna, though it was certainly one of the good gifts that God gave to them.
Instead, in their thanksgiving, they recognize that God has fed them in a much deeper way. God fed their deep hunger for a place to belong, their hunger for justice, their hunger for liberation from slavery, their hunger for hope and for deeper connection with God. God saw their deep need and answered it.
Indeed, God did feed them with manna, but they also recognized that God had fed their hunger for so much more.
We here today are a pretty far cry from those wandering Israelites once enslaved in Egypt. And our lives are pretty different even from the life of an average first century Galilean peasant following Jesus around the sea. Most of us don’t go around begging God for bread from heaven because we can comfortably expect that our daily needs will be met.
But that comfort can sometimes make us forget that we still have deep need. We still have deeper hungers. Not unlike the Israelites, we also hunger for a sense of belonging. We hunger for justice. We hunger for liberation from slavery to sin. We hunger for hope and for deeper connection with God and with our neighbor. We hunger for life that overcomes death.
We are hungry. Our souls are rumbling with that hunger. We are hungry for something more than bread, for more than manna, for more than pumpkin pie and lights and glitter.
And to be sure, these are all God’s good gifts, for which we do give thanks. But today Jesus also reminds us today that he came to satisfy a much deeper hunger. He came to feed us with the bread of life: the food that endures for eternity.
So come to the table; Christ invites you. Come to this table and bring all of your hunger with you. Come and eat. I hope you’re hungry.