John 6:1-15; What Are You Hungry For? (7-26-15)

 

It’s just past six on a Friday night.

It’s been a long week, and nobody feels like cooking.

The family piles into the car, and after all the seatbelts have been clicked and the wheels start rolling down the driveway, someone throws out the question: “So, what are you hungry for?” 

It’s a necessary question.

After all, we live in a world where almost every major intersection offers a buffet of bountiful choices. “

Will it be Mexican or Italian? Are you up for steak, Thai or in the mood for burgers and fries?”

What are you hungry for?

Now, although the options are endless, statistics tell us that much of the time we Americans will opt for something quick, easy and light on the pocketbook.

Yes, despite warnings about our health and worries over such things as trans fats, what many of us crave is good ol’ fast food. 

And why not? You can find it everywhere.

Gone are the days when a hungry family had to search for a drive-through in order to be fed.

Fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King are now located a few feet from the checkout counter in Wal-Mart, just past the pump at many gas stations and even in the cafeterias of most large hospitals.

In his best seller Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser notes that Americans spend more money on fast food than on higher education, computers, computer software or new cars. In fact, according to Schlosser, we spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers and recorded music — combined. That’s a lot of McRib sandwiches. 

So, what are you hungry for?

It’s a great question.

It’s a question that goes beyond what your body feeds on for fuel, beyond what you do to quench a midday craving.

It’s a question that — if you allow it — tugs at much deeper drives and desires. 

What accomplishment are you feasting on, hoping it will give you that long-sought-after sense of fulfillment?

What activity do you devour, holding out for the day that it finally makes you feel whole?

What ideology are you buying in bulk, praying that it answers the questions to all of life’s mysteries?

Jesus was well acquainted with hungry people.

The gospel of John paints a picture of Jesus who, at the height of his earthly ministry, had reached a sort of “rock-star” status in much of Israel. His miracles amazed the masses, and his sermons could silence a crowd. The buzz about Jesus was that “this guy had the touch.” “This guy was the real deal,” they said. And so the people followed.

In John 6, Jesus and the disciples attempt to hang out on a hilltop, only to find a large crowd, excited about the miracles they’ve seen, make their way toward the group.

This was no small pack of fans. From all indications, it was a stadium full of people, lines of folks for as far as the eye could see, making their way to Jesus. Thousands upon thousands were hungry for whatever it was that this rock-star rabbi would do next.

Sensing both a logistical nightmare and the opportunity to send an unmistakable message, Jesus engaged in what would be his most magnificent miracle yet.

Taking five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus said to the disciples, “Make the people sit down” (John 6:10). He grabbed the measly meal, gave thanks and then offered it to the masses. And to the surprise of all but the Savior himself, it lasted. That simple and insignificant little meal more than satisfied the hunger of thousands upon thousands of Jesus’ biggest fans.

Is Jesus merely a “buffet of blessing”?

When studying this story, it’s tempting to use it as an excuse to paint a very attractive but dangerously inaccurate picture of Jesus. The temptation is to see Jesus — who can walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead and apparently calm not only the seas but my stomach — the same way that crowd did. 

The temptation is to see a Savior who’s here to simply meet your needs and make your temporal troubles melt away.

One can easily begin to see Jesus as a short-order Savior, here to quench all our earthly cravings.

In fact, John tells us the people were so moved by the miracle that they wanted to throw a crown on Jesus and anoint him as their earthly king right there, on the spot!

Perhaps they were thinking, “Hey, with this guy in power, life will be one nonstop buffet of blessing!”

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that many of us first approach Jesus with precisely the same attitude.

Our lives are filled with cravings for things such as financial security, physical well-being and peaceful relationships. We enlist the help of folks such as Dr. Phil and Oprah, we try the secrets to satisfaction touted on magazine covers and we devour the latest self-help blog, hoping it will provide the healing we hunger for. 

Even the way many of us shop for actual food offers a striking metaphor of our search for satisfaction. Warehouse stores such as Costco allow shoppers to load up on life’s necessities at bargain prices and in bulk, working on the idea that life is better when you can buy more. And the stores offer deals on everything imaginable.

In fact, Costco has even begun selling coffins — yes, coffins — to its bargain-hungry customers. (As an aside, this alone begs certain questions: What do you do with it once you buy it, presuming you won’t need it for a while? Do they come only in packs of six?)

Many of us shop for fulfillment like we shop for groceries.

We walk through life loading our massive cart full of stuff that we hope will cure our cravings for the picture-perfect family, a nice retirement and a long, healthy life.

And at some point, after hearing rumors of his power and talk of his miracles, we make our way to Jesus.

Just like everything else, we throw him into our cart, too, attempting — just like the hungry crowds of John’s gospel — to anoint Jesus as the ultimate means to all our shallow, earthly ends.

In the process, even Jesus becomes just another ingredient in a game we play where the goal is simply to get what we want.

It’s a journey that, in the end, proves unfulfilling.

Bono, the front man for rock band U2 and a professed Christian, sums up our search for temporal deliverance in these hit lyrics: 

“I have climbed the highest mountains,

I have run through the fields … I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls. …

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” 

Jesus came to be the food we need

John tells us that Jesus sensed the crowd’s desire to throw him into their cart and anoint him as their miracle-working king.

This forced him to retreat until the mass made its way home.

What Jesus knew was that while the people marveled at his miracles, they misunderstood the message.

Jesus didn’t come to help people get what they want.

No, he came to be what we want.

He didn’t come to be a sort of “short-order savior,” there to simply crank out whatever it is that will satisfy our earthly needs.

He came to be the food that we feast on.

This, in fact, summarizes the message of this lengthy chapter.

All of which begs the question once again: 

What are you hungry for?

If you’re looking for a Jesus who will fatten your 401(k), guarantee a cure for your cancer, offer you “10 easy steps to a perfect family,” land you a great job or restore each and every one of your relationships, then you’ve got the wrong Jesus.

There are plenty of Jesus’ people who can help with such things, and indeed the Scriptures offer plenty of guidance on such things. But Jesus himself has different things to tend to.

Jesus didn’t come to perfect your life; he came to lay down his life and take it back up again, as he himself said (John 10:18).

His death and resurrection, then, are a “meal” that sustains our souls, bringing wholeness, healing and growth. 

When we come to Jesus, and for Jesus, we receive Jesus.

When our souls are fed and filled by the work of Jesus, we may still go through seasons of illness, unemployment or even a lack of food. But one thing we will never, ever be is — empty. 

Furthermore, when we fill ourselves with Jesus, we find that many of our other cravings in life, such as a need for purpose and meaning, become satisfied, freeing us to view the issues that affect our day-to-day lives with contented eyes and an eternal perspective.

So, one last time: What are you hungry for?

It’s a great question. It’s a question that goes beyond what you do to quench a Friday night craving.

It’s a question that — if you allow it — tugs at much deeper drives and desires.

May we feast on the spiritual food that offers true sustenance for our souls.

May we follow Jesus not so that he can meet our needs but rather knowing that he is all we need.

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare (Isaiah 55:2 NIV).