November 20, 2022, Thanksgiving (Luke 6:25-35)
by Rev. Dr. Bob Jon
People were looking for Jesus. Why? The story in Luke 6:25-35 comes after the miracle of feeding five thousand people, without counting the number of women and children, with the lunch box of a boy. Every time I read the text, I laugh at the response from Philip. “Hey, here is a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Can we do something about it?” Seriously, Philip? Do you really want to take away a child’s lunch? However, Jesus still performed a miracle by multiplying the five loaves of bread and two fish. The next thing, the disciples of Jesus got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. All of a sudden, there was a strong wind, and the disciples thought that they were going to die. They got almost scared to see Jesus walk on water.
And the next day, people were looking for Jesus. It was not necessarily because they “saw miraculous signs” and recognized who Jesus was. But they simply ran out of the bread they ate and were looking for more. After all, they needed a leader like Moses who could pray to God and fded the Israelites on the manna and quails. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a political leader who could simply provide us with our daily needs? Like Emperor Nero, who entertained the crowd in his city with games and free food? Isn’t this why the crowd wanted to come and force Jesus to be their earthly king after they witnessed the miracle of feeding five thousand? (6:15)
However, Jesus not only refuses to be their political king but also corrects what they need to work for – not the “food that does not last but for the food that endures for eternal life” (v.27). The Gospel of John does not present the words Jesus say during the Passover which institutes the liturgy for our communion today. (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-19) Nevertheless, John still shares the discourse of the communion by comparing it with our ordinary bread – Jesus is “the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v.33). He is the “bread of life” (v.35). Jesus promises that whoever comes to him and believes in him will never go hungry and thirsty.
When we read Jesus’ words here, it is easy for us to dismiss the importance of literal bread as a peripheral concern of Christians. However, if the actual bread was not an essential concern to Jesus, he would not have fed five thousand people who were going hungry. After he was resurrected and appeared to his disciples, he cooked breakfast with bread and fish on charcoals and served them (John 21:9-14). Therefore, while there are some attempts to misrepresent Jesus in John’s Gospel as merely spiritual, Henry C. Thiessen argues that John does not “support sacramentarianism,” a theory that endorses the presence of Christ in communion only in a metaphorical sense. (Theissen, Introduction to the New Testament, 174)
Since working as a United Methodist pastor, I have always been involved with a feeding ministry. Why not? John Wesley also said that there is no other holiness but social holiness. When I was in Portsmouth, the parishioners gathered weekly to pack bags of food items and brought them to the public schools for underprivileged children. When I was in Westport, people volunteered to participate in a food truck ministry in New Bedford, disturbing food, coffee, and clothing. When I was in Putnam, my former church held a meal program every Friday. 70-80 people came to the fellowship hall to enjoy home-cooked meals and hospitality from the volunteers. While all these works are applaudable, after all, we are making a difference in the lives of our neighbors, a critical question is, “Should we offer them more than just food and clothing?” “Will they feel offended or even insulted if we offer them an invitation to a deeper relationship with Christ?”
One thing I often contemplate is that Jesus often shared food with his disciples and others to build a relationship with one another and with God. For example, when Jesus gently admonished Martha that Mary had found something better, he was not taking sides with faith over work. Instead, I believe that Jesus’ answer implies that the service we provide others in our love and hospitality is intended to reveal the love of God, who has great compassion for strangers, the hungry, widows, and the forgotten. While Martha was preoccupied herself trying to be a good host, she probably forgot to see that Jesus became the generous host in her house. While we do our best to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and hold the hands of the sick, we are often blinded from seeing Jesus, who stands among us and offers us the living bread, the food that never perishes.
Of course, while providing a service to neighbors in need, I have never tried to proselytize them. I only offered a short prayer as requested by the leader of such ministries. However, I have learned that Christ is already busy offering himself as the living bread to those who hunger in their relationship with God. It is a very small number of people who have called me to say that they really enjoyed the hospitality from the members of the church, not the pastor, and wanted to find out the time for worship on Sundays. And they really showed up, Hallelujah! Another time, a young man was in trouble legally for violating his retraining order around the local business due to his history of thefts. He called me and said, “I am scheduled to appear at the court tomorrow. My lawyer told me if I could bring someone to advocate for me. I know I don’t go to your church, but I consider you my pastor. Would you be willing to come and sit next to me?”
I have been in ministry only for 12 years. And when someone calls me their “pastor,” I do not take it for granted. As the Hebrew word for “pastor”, רעה (roʿeh), means “shepherd,” I see the true Shepherd who has called me in the first place to come and follow him. I recognize the Shepherd who continues to seek, find the lost and broken, and offers himself as the living bread to them. Even today, people still come to church. Maybe some are looking for some miracle to turn their fortune like the prosperity gospel preachers teach. Maybe some are continuing their family tradition. “Well, my grandparents got married here, and my father was baptised here.” Perhaps, some do not care much about Christianity, its dogma, or worship. They just show up to enjoy some good food and chat with others.
However, the good news is that Christ faithfully continues to offer himself to us all as the living bread for us, inviting us to a deeper relationship with God so that we are enabled to partake in our communion with him and commit to his way of life.