Many years ago, I was having coffee with a friend in the colorful nightlife of downtown San Francisco after watching a movie and having dinner together. Suddenly he uttered, “My heart is hungry.” He said it in Burmese. His word puzzled me. How can someone’s heart be hungry?
My friend was an engineer and quite intelligent but not a believer. One of the qualities I like about smart people is that they are good at putting their abstract consciousness into words. I don’t have that gift since I am not that smart, but I appreciate their eloquence.
I realized he was talking about a feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment deep inside his heart—a pang of hunger in the soul. Later, I found out that he would frequent nightclubs, bars, brothels, or other thrills and entertainments to fill his emptiness whenever his heart is hungry.
The problem is it is like filling a black hole that never satisfies. I am sure you know Saint Augustine used to be a playboy like that until he found Christ, and he wrote:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” ~St. Augustine
That’s a concise articulation of a complex but common feeling of humanity—the emptiness that makes us restless until it is filled with the right thing. Being one of the most brilliant men on earth, Saint Augustine was able to put his consciousness into succinct words.
Using my friend’s language, we might reword Augustine’s statement, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are hungry until they are satisfied by you.” That explains why Jesus said that he is the bread of life.
Without him, our hearts are always hungry. The fantastic vibes, delicious foods, and endless entertainments of downtown San Francisco nightlife or anywhere else cannot fill the emptiness we are born with because our Creator reserves that space for Himself.
So, today, let us talk about how to fill the hunger of our hearts with the bread of life to make our lives meaningful, fruitful, satisfied, and fulfilled. The consciousness of a hungry heart is good, but the consciousness of what really fills the hunger is more important. What use if we know that we are hungry but don’t know what satisfies it. So, let us find out about how to feed our hungry hearts based on today’s scripture lesson.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to John 6:24-35. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
So 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.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus 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. 27 Do 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.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So 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? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Then 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. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus 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. (John 6:24-35).
[This is the Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God.]
The crowd in this passage represents you and me. Like all human beings, their hearts were hungry, but they were not conscious of where the hunger reside. Jesus fed them loaves and fish, but they kept looking for him for more. That’s why Jesus said to 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.” (v. 26).
This verse describes a serious human problem. They followed Jesus to feed their hungry heart, but they ended up only satisfying themselves with physical needs. Many people go to church with the expectation that God will fulfill their temporal needs, such as career success, healing of a sickness, socializing, or networking.
That’s not wrong. God does care about our temporal needs, our health, success, and relationships. However, Jesus said these things are given to us when we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The problem is we are reversing the priority because we don’t see the signs.
Jesus was disappointed at their lack of a higher level of consciousness. The Bible says that he had compassion for the crowd, and that’s why he wanted to feed them with what they really need—the food for their hungry heart, but all they could see is the food for their stomach.
We need to reflect on this verse often. Do we only see the fringe benefit of following Christ or the core benefit? Jesus has revealed to us that if we focus on the core benefit, we get the fringe benefits as bonuses, but if we focus on the fringe benefit, we lose everything. Then Jesus said,
“Do 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.” (v. 27).
There is a Burmese saying, “When you are young, seek education; when you are grown up, seek wealth; and when you are old, seek spirituality.” However, the teaching of Jesus is reversed. He wants us to seek spirituality as the top priority.
I am reading a book, “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts. It’s a fascinating book about how to travel around the world for personal and spiritual growth. Most people work hard to accumulate wealth, hoping that they would travel when they retire. But Vagabonding teaches people to spend the best part of their lives doing the main thing. Henry Thoreau said,
“Spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Both the book and the quote are a good metaphor for what Jesus is talking about. Just as the book inspires you to work for vagabonding, Jesus wants us to work for eternal bread. However, most people have no idea how to do it. We focus only on making ends meet.
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (vs. 28-29).
There is no work involved. It’s just mental work or spiritual work—to believe in the One God has sent. You cannot work for the bread of life, but you must believe in it. It’s both easy and hard. It’s hard because it’s abstract, and it’s easy because you don’t have to earn it.
However, the crowd wanted more signs. They followed Jesus because they saw the miracles—the healing, the exorcism, the teaching, and the feeding of five thousand people. As if those were not enough for them, they wanted to see more proof that Jesus is the One sent by God.
So 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? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” (vs. 30-31).
In other words, they were saying, “If you can make our ends meet, we will believe that you are God.” They still want physical benefits as proof of Jesus’ deity. Isn’t this what most people do around the world. They go to the temples and offer their prayers to ask God to give them what they want. They don’t see beyond their temporal needs.
Then 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. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (vs. 32-33).
Jesus helped them interpret the scripture explaining to them that the bread of heaven is not the manna. It’s not something that fills the stomach but gives life. He said later,
“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.” (vs. 49-50).
Even though the manna was a miracle food when the Israelites were in the wilderness, it was not the bread from heaven. He said their ancestors ate the manna and died, but eating the bread of life will give them eternal life. It is the bread that satisfied the hunger of their hearts.
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (v. 34).
Based on the context of this passage, the crowd did not understand what Jesus was talking about. So when they said, “Sir, give us this bread always,” they were not asking for what Jesus intended to give them. It seems more like, “Sir, enough talking, show me the money.” They want to fill their hunger with material goods, thinking that they would be satisfied as long as they eat their fill every day.
The word “always” in “Give us this bread always” indicates that the one-time miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand people was not enough. If he was really God, he should perform that miracle every day to feed them, just like the way Moses fed their ancestors every day during their journey through the wilderness.
Jesus 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.” (v. 35).
Jesus’ answer might have both confused and disappointed them. They were expecting physical loaves of bread like they saw the day before, but now Jesus is saying that he is the bread of life.
That is one of the seven “I am” statements of Jesus. “I am” in Hebrew Scriptures is the name of God. When Moses asked God what His name was so that he could tell the Pharaoh and the Israelites who sent him,
“God said to Moses, I AM that I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)
So when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” it means that God is the bread of life. The religious leaders heard that and felt offended because they understood it as Jesus is saying that he is God. We see two types of people in the crowd—the laypeople were there looking for sustenance, and the religious leaders were there looking for something to get offended.
Now, Jesus showed them how to eat the bread of life. He said,
“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (v. 35b).
There are two action words in the verse—come and believe. Based on the context of Jesus’ entire teaching, to come to him means having a relationship with him or become one with him. Our heart is hungry because we live in a world of broken relationships—with God and with people.
Families fall apart because of broken relationships, wars break out because of broken relationships, and crimes happen due to broken relationships. Open the newspaper or turn on the TV, and you see news of broken relationships. No news is good news, and all bad news traces to broken relationships.
Our heart is hungry when we long for a healthy relationship with our family and friends. Our heart is hungry when we long for reconciliation with God. However, only a healthy relationship with God will heal the broken relationships with people. That’s why Jesus wants us to priorities reconciling our relationship with God.
To believe in him means to believe he is the Lamb of God. That’s the theme of John’s Gospel. Like the blood of the Passover lamb, the blood of Christ makes the Angel of Death pass over our houses. Jesus is the Lamb of liberation for us to escape the slavery of this world of broken relationships.
Like a slave hungry for freedom, human hearts are never satisfied until the broken relationships are reconciled—with God and with people. Let us come to him so that we will never be hungry, and let us believe in him so that we will never be thirsty. Let us enjoy the bread of life now and forevermore.
Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness. Amen!