Pastoral Ponderings: Jesus at the Potluck

Food and bread are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ‘feeding the multitude’

Robin King

Pastoral Ponderings

I wrote about church potlucks last week. I connected them, loosely, to the miracle story of Jesus feeding the multitude (John 6:1-21), a miracle, I think, of sharing and community.

I talk about food a lot and encourage it at church. Whether it’s a potluck meal, a pancake breakfast, a community supper or just coffee and cookies or muffins or pie … mmm, the pie.

Sometimes, I have a feeling that I talk about it too much when people say things like “do you do anything but eat at your church?” Oh, yes, yes we do.

See – and you’ve probably heard me say this before – I think that the feeding the multitude story is just the tip of the food iceberg (the foodberg?) in the bible. There are loads of stories of Jesus sharing a meal with people. And I bet there were many more that were left out. I don’t think it’s just The Last Supper that’s important, or this miracle of loaves and fishes, too. I think every time Jesus “broke bread” with people something amazing happened.

Because it’s not about the bread.

John’s gospel includes seven instances of Jesus describing himself with an “I am” statement, different ways of understanding who Jesus is and what he’s about. The first follows this story of the feeding of the multitude, when Jesus tells them “I am the Bread of Life.”

It seems the crowd from the miracle story has followed Jesus, seeking more. And when they catch up to him, there’s a strange interaction. At first, he questions their sincerity, saying they’re only looking for more food, like the day before. But they ask him, then, how do we do what God wants us to do? Jesus says they should believe in him, the one God has sent. So they ask for a sign.

(This is the point that I think either Jesus is divinely patient or he did a face palm and said “what do you think the whole loaves and fishes thing was? Or what about the healing and the casting out demons, stuff? They’re all signs, people.”)

They even quote from Exodus to him, how Moses fed the Israelites with manna in the desert (see Exodus 16), another food-sharing moment.

But Jesus points out that it wasn’t Moses that fed them. It was no “sign” of Moses’ power, it was God that fed them. And now, Jesus is that manna from God, Jesus is the Bread of Life.

Because it’s not about the bread.

Jesus is truly “soul food.” Jesus feeds the spirit and living a life “fed” by Jesus brings us closer to God and the world. And that bread is for the whole world, for everyone. Being spiritually nourished in this way is a common element in all religions. How can it not be? We must feed our souls or be spiritually dead.

But what does it mean to be spiritually nourished? Jesus points out that there must be more than the offer of spiritual food here: it requires also the willingness to receive it, to understand it and to believe in its power to nourish. The life of the Bread of Life – sounds awkward, but it’s what I mean, I think – is our example for living, for loving one another and living right with our world. It’s part of our responsibility in this relationship to discern what is bread and water that nourishes and what is coffee and donuts that feed a craving or candy that fattens our soul.

I mean that last sentence metaphorically, of course, but here’s the moment that it’s also about the bread. Jesus doesn’t call us just to be fed and to feed others spiritually. That doesn’t bring wholeness. Living right with our world means that we need to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, embrace the stranger, clothe the naked and care for the sick and broken (Matt. 25:35-36). Fed but the manna, the Bread of Life, we can feed others.

It’s like a good church potluck. The food’s always good, there’s always lots of it and I’m pretty sure it’s blessed with no calories or cholesterol (I’m going to think that, anyway). But it’s not just about the food, it’s about the sharing, the community, the giving and receiving, the conversations, the inspiration, the love. Oh yes, the love.

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