Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35 As far as anyone can tell, bread as a staple food originated in the Middle East some fourteen thousand years ago, although the composition of that early bread is not exactly known. Conditions were apparently just right back then in the so-called Fertile Crescent for the growing of the various grains from which bread can be made, something which was unfortunately not true in other parts of the world. There was no bread to speak of for instance in ancient times in the Americas of today nor in the Far East. Still, whoever first hit upon the idea of purposely growing grain, then grinding it into a kind of powder, mixing the powder with water, and heating the resultant paste or sludge over fire surely must count as one of the great culinary innovators of all time, rivalling even Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey. Not to mention Károly Gundel, our Hungarian gastronome. And because it was fairly easy to make, bread quickly became a food necessity. We are still eating the stuff today -- if we are not gluten-sensitive. The production of bread required significant cooperation among farmers, transporters, millers, bakers, and merchants leading some scholars to credit its invention in large measure with the development of cities and civilization. Quite an accomplishment for a simple slice of toast. We are fortunate in a sense today to live in a time and age when food is plentiful; some might say too plentiful considering the problems some people in Western societies seem to have with obesity and weight control. So, it may be difficult for us to get into the minds and thinking of ancient peoples -- and sadly of many peoples even today -- preoccupied on a daily basis with finding scarce foodstuffs and nourishment for their families. Those who have time to keep track of such things tell us that bread is mentioned some five-hundred times in Scripture; more times, I would note, even than love and fear, the great themes of both Testaments. I suppose we can live for a while with fear and sometimes even without love but everyone needs their daily bread, after all, as our Lord himself tells us.
In our first reading this morning from the Second Book of Samuel, Nathan the Prophet uses this ancient obsession with food and the feeding of others to great effect in his telling of the parable of the poor man and his rich neighbour. The poor man’s lamb, his source of sustenance and security, is in Nathan’s telling unjustly taken from him and slaughtered by his wealthy neighbour in order to feed an alien wayfarer. With this simple story of theft and misplaced hospitality, Nathan leads David to convict himself of adultery and murder. Both David and our Lord were of course famously born in Bethlehem, the very name of which means house of bread, as you probably know. But in the case of Jesus, the one born in the house of bread now becomes himself the Bread of Life, as we see in our reading today from the Gospel of John. The throngs of people, having feasted at the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, understandably now come looking for more. I suppose it would have been in a sense foolish for them not to. Free food, after all, is free food. What’s not to like...? So they seek out Jesus, the one who had just the day before fed them so fully. In effect, they seek, as they themselves say, the Manna of Exodus and the desert years and, with it, lasting satiety, forgetting all the while where all sustenance comes from in the first place. Our Lord challenges them even in their physical hunger to seek rather, “the food that endures for eternal life,” setting the discourse and interchange on a completely different and higher level. And as is so often the case in the Gospel of John, confusion and misunderstanding on the part of those our Lord encounters leads ultimately to clarity and the challenge of faith as our Lord tells them plainly, “I am the Bread of Life.” Our Lord knows the true motives of the people and chooses not to speak to their physical hunger, as real as it may have been; but to their spiritual hunger, a hunger which afflicts the world still today; a hunger which in a sense never goes away. Certainly not at times, as today, of uncertainty, isolation, disease, and death. Both the well-fed and the starving, both the healthy and the ailing of every generation seek in their own ways the feeding of soul and spirit. And we all seek the multiplication of our own happiness and aggrandizement; sometimes sadly, like David, at the expense of others. Fortunes are made feeding spiritual hunger. Ask any self-help guru or New-Age prophet. Yet the Jesus of John’s Gospel explicitly teaches us that we cannot ever truly feed ourselves. Our spiritual sustenance cannot come from within nor from the words of prophet, sage, or saint. Jesus reminds us of the reality that it is his Father alone who gives us “the true bread from heaven.”
We still seek signs of course. We still seek meaning for our lives. If it took cooperation and community to make bread in ancient times, it still takes our coming together today as one to share “the bread of heaven” and to find and share the Christ. The sign given to the throngs in the multiplication of the loaves is still with us in this Eucharist. The bread of heaven is broken and shared in the body of Christ. Yet in his very brokenness we are healed and made one and find meaning for the days ahead. As Christ fed the multitudes, so he still feeds us, but if we in turn also feed the other.. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs