St. Philip Lutheran Church
1 August 2021 + Lectionary 18B (Pent. 10)
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
What are you hungry for?
I’ve lived a fairly comfortable and privileged life, and the answer to that question has never gone unfulfilled. I’ve never had to question where my next meal is coming from. Usually I’m more paralyzed by the many options available to me - Do I order Jimmy John’s delivery to the office to keep plowing through work during lunch? Do I pick up something quick and easy for dinner on the way home, or do I actually use the Home Chef kit waiting for me in the fridge?
Every once in a while, I do forget to eat - when a meeting or a project carries me past a regular meal time and all of a sudden I look at the clock and realize it’s 3pm and I haven’t eaten anything that day. Still, even then, my hunger is a need easily met.
The crowd that follows Jesus knows hunger. It’s likely that most of them live well below the first-century poverty line. Food and resources are scarce. They’re just trying to get by - to feed themselves and their families. They’re hungry - physically hungry - for real bread and real food.
The miracle of abundance that Jesus provided was the most food they had ever seen in their entire lives. And there it was - free for the taking - as much as they wanted, and with leftovers.
Wouldn’t you get in the boats too and go looking for the person who made it happen? How did you do that? Can you do it again? Can you show us how to do it? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness - remember that? Can we have that? Give us this bread always!
At this point, I’d probably be a little frustrated with Jesus. The hungry crowds are asking Jesus questions about bread, and Jesus responds with something about “eternal life” and “the Son of Man” and - did he just call himself “the bread of life”? It feels like a case of talking past each other - the crowds saying one thing and Jesus coming out of left field saying something else altogether.
Traditional interpretation of this passage tends to fault the people for somehow not “getting it” - not understanding what Jesus is talking about. But their boldness shouldn’t be downplayed. They’re poor, they’re hungry, and they ask for what they need. They know what Jesus did for them, and they want to experience that kind of abundance always - to be freed from their hunger and to never be hungry again. They name what they are hungry for, and they ask for it.
Several years ago, I was leaving a comedy show on a busy Friday night in Lakeview. As I was walking back to the red line, idly checking something on my phone, a woman walked up to me to get my attention. It wasn’t particularly startling - just unexpected. She was a short, thin woman, modestly but nicely dressed, with a hat, glasses, and a long camel-colored pea coat and holding a small back purse in front of her with gloved hands.
“I don’t want money,” she said - and then began to explain how she had wound up in Chicago to stay with a friend who had turned out to be not-so-reliable. Alone in a strange city without any resources, she was trying to make the best of her situation in the meantime. She pointed to a Chinese restaurant across the street and asked if I would buy her dinner. She knew exactly what she wanted - barbecued chicken wings and white rice - and assured me it would cost no more than $10.
Over ten years later, that interaction has stuck with me, and what strikes me most is the woman’s risky initiative. At the risk of being dismissed or ignored, she named her hunger and asked for what she needed.
There is real hunger and real need among the crowds. Jesus doesn’t ignore that. He tends to their bodily needs without hesitation. Jesus knows that those needs are important. And he doesn’t stop there.
Jesus also knows that there’s more going on - and he invites the crowd to explore their “soul hungers” - the things for which they hunger that they can’t name or articulate. There is a restlessness and a holy longing that drives the crowd back to Jesus. They recognize what he has done for them, and they want more.
As St. Augustine has famously written: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” There are things for which we hunger with which God longs to feed us.
Jesus tells the people that what God provides for us goes far beyond physical food. He knows their hunger, our hunger, is deeper than that. We hunger for belonging, with God and God’s people. We long for healing and forgiveness, for the ways in which we have been wounded, and the ways in which we have wounded others. We crave connection with the earth and all that God created. And we thirst for the peace of God that goes far beyond what this world, with all its beauty and brokenness, can give.
What are you hungry for?
God meets us in our restless longing, even when we can’t articulate what we need or are too afraid to ask, and God feeds us with abundant and generous grace. God invites us to the table with our whole selves, even the parts we’re ashamed of, and God sets a place for us.
God invites us to the table in order to feed our deepest hunger and to be radically transformed to become bread for the world.