The man walked into the “Donations” entrance of a local food shelf and placed his gift on the counter. A volunteer behind the counter looked at the man, looked at the donation, and looked back to the man. “Um, it’s a can opener,” said the volunteer. The donor replied, “Several years ago when I was down on my luck, I visited this place, and you were very generous.
When I arrived home, starving, I took out the contents of the bags you gave me: eleven cans of tuna, soup, green beans and sliced potatoes. But I had no can opener, so I walked to the gas station and bought a hot dog.”
What do you hunger for? Food wise? Do you love Italian or Mexican food? German or Danish food? How about Indian food? What would your favorite meal be? What would your favorite dessert be?
Let’s shift gears. What do you hunger for? Attention? Satisfaction? Remember the song, “I can’t get no satisfaction…” Or how about excitement or an adrenaline rush? Recognition for who you are or what you have done? How about safety or security?
All of us hunger for something.
Jesus knows that about us, about our human race. He knew that about His disciples and the crowds that “crowded” around Him.
In school we learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When our basic needs for survival are met we can focus on more intangible needs. Bread—food for daily living—is a basic need. Yet Jesus wants us to focus on more than just daily bread. He hopes we will also focus on spiritual needs, our need for salvation and eternal life.
The setting for our Gospel reading is the approaching Passover—the Jewish festival that remembered and celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and slavery. Part of the Passover meal was the Passover lamb and unleavened bread. That also called to mind the forty year track through the wilderness where God fed the people of Israel with manna—bread from heaven.
Jesus is intentional in this miraculous feeding of five thousand. God’s Spirit is intentional in its placement in Scripture and what it teaches us. Luther, in his Small Catechism, reminds us that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not educating God about our needs. He knows them before we do. He knows our needs better than we ourselves do. We pray that petition in order to remember our dependence upon God for everything necessary for daily life.
So in one sense this miraculous feeding of five thousand teaches us that God can and does meet all our needs according to His riches in glory in Jesus. He can and does take care of us. There is no shortage of mercy and grace. There is no lack in God’s provision.
But more importantly this reading teaches us to raise up our eyes and be alert to our spiritual needs. The huge crowds that gathered around Jesus wanted healings from physical diseases. Then when Jesus effortlessly feeds thousands of people in one setting in one afternoon they quickly determine to make Him their “bread king” by force. Like a quick popular vote for solid social security through an endless supply of daily bread.
But Jesus is more than a bread king. He came into our world to be our Savior and Lord. To redeem us from sin, death and the power of the devil. Jesus’ focus is huge. The crowds focus in temporal and narrow. So like us humans! We see only the immediate, the present circumstances, not forth coming consequences in the future.
Jesus’ words in John 10:10 “I came that they might have life—abundant life.”
John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Our human tendency is to shrink God down to fit our perspective. To “remake God in our image.” That tendency goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis. But it is also evident in today’s Gospel reading. The crowds wanted a “bread king.” We often want God to meet our needs in a way that could also reduce Jesus.
Our prayer requests often amount to telling God what we want Him to do, and when and where! That is role reversal, plain and simple. God is not responsible to fulfill our wishes and submit to our will. We are called to yield to God. We need to remember that, even in our prayers.
What is, in our prayers, we were to listen to God more than we talk to God? What if, in our prayers, we were to ask God to help us understand His will and follow Him? What if, in our prayers, we were to ask God to open our eyes and ears and heart to know and follow Him? That would change and transform our prayers. That would result in a deeper relationship with God and a stronger faith. Then we would grow in our experience of sensing and knowing God’s presence with us in our every day life. That would change us. And, that, more than anything else, is our goal in prayer.
Jesus is not our bread king. He is not a puppet on a string, answer-my-prayers-my-way-in-my time sort of God. He is our Savior and Lord.
In Jesus’ name. Amen!