"Satisfying Our Hunger"
Scripture – John 6:24-35
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, August 2, 2015

Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of Jesus in a similar fashion. They follow the same sequence of events and contain much of the same content. The Gospel of John is altogether different. Not only does it present a different sequence of events and unique content, it presents the story of Jesus in a different style.

In the first three gospels, Jesus tells dozens of parables. In the Gospel of John, Jesus shares only a handful of very short parables. In the first three gospels, the story of Jesus is told in a straightforward way, while the Gospel of John "makes frequent use of irony and symbolism, literary devices that ask the reader to discover the deeper meaning of an expression."1

The best example is the "I am" sayings. Only in the fourth gospel does Jesus say, "I am the good shepherd," "I am the true vine," "I am the light of the world," "I am the way, and the truth and the life," and in our passage this morning: "I am the bread of life."

Our passage is part of a larger narrative that began with Jesus feeding a huge crowd with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. After he quenched their hunger, Jesus crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Our passage picks up the events of the following day when the crowd jumped into boats and went in search of Jesus. When they locate him, Jesus says, "I know you have come looking for me because I filled your stomachs with bread. You should not spend your energy on food that perishes, but instead, on food that endures for eternal life."

Puzzled by his words, people pummel Jesus with questions. He responds, "The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." The people jump at that and say, "Sir, give us this bread always." And Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

It is obvious when we read this passage that bread functions on two levels. On one level, bread represents what we consume to nourish us physically. Bread provides us the energy we need to work, walk, and play. Too much bread and we acquire these lovely "energy reserves" around our waist! Especially, when the bread comes in the form of chocolate or ice cream.

Bread keeps the ticker ticking and the gray matter clicking. The people who come to hear Jesus fully understand the necessity of bread for physical survival. They did not have cupboards full of food. In the first century, the overwhelming majority of people spent a significant portion of each day providing for their physical needs. When we think about a meal, we think in terms of choices. For lunch today, will I make a salad or pick up a sub sandwich? Or, maybe I would like enchiladas or pasta or sushi.

We think in terms of calories – we don't want people to look at us and think "Hmmm, former defensive lineman in the NFL." The people who came out to hear Jesus also thought in terms of calories – will I be able to put my hands on enough food today to sustain my family for another 24 hours?

To people for whom bread was not a second thought, but a question of survival, Jesus said, "Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures."

The crowd's first reaction must have been enormous disappointment. "We are hoping for another delicious dinner and you speak poetically?" However, Jesus uses the crowds yearning for the bread that nourishes them physically as an opening to talk about the bread that can nourish them spiritually. Our passage underscores the fact that we are more than simply physical creatures. We are also spiritual beings.

Physical hunger is regulated by a complex system of chemicals that send signals to the brain alerting it when fuel is needed. If we fail to eat something when our body says "It's time," our blood sugar drops, we become a bit testy, our mind begins to move in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n, and we begin to slump. To remedy our need, we head to the kitchen, eat some bread and reboot our system.

Spiritual hunger is more subtle. It operates more at the level of feelings and this hunger is trickier to identify; thus more challenging to satisfy.

Many experience spiritual hunger as a void within that needs to be filled. Some attempt to satisfy this emptiness in the same way they satisfy their physical hunger – by grabbing a sandwich or a candy bar. Eating makes us feel better in the short run, but only serves to mask the hunger that resides in our soul. A spiritual void can only be satisfied by connecting with God.

I suspect most of us experience spiritual hunger in more than one way. You may experience it as a yearning for love and acceptance. Forming a loving bond with a parent, a friend or a spouse can go a long way in easing this yearning. Most of us carry some degree of guilt over a past failure. We did something unethical or we let someone down or we used bad judgment and we kick ourselves for not responding with our better self. However, it cannot quench our deep desire to feel worthy of love and acceptance. We need to know that despite the fact that we are not perfect, God loves us, wants the best for us and craves a connection with us. Did you know God craves a connection with you?

Another way we may experience spiritual hunger is in the form of guilt. Not being able to rid ourselves of guilty feelings can fuel inner turmoil. We need to know in our head and experience in our soul that God forgives us and can renew us. God does not erase the past, but can provide opportunities for a different future.

Many experience spiritual emptiness as a yearning for meaning and purpose. We need to feel that what we do matters and that we are making a positive contribution to the lives of others. Our culture attempts to deflect our attention from our search for meaning by substituting a drive for success. Society blares, "Go for wealth! Go for notoriety! Go for power! And, if you achieve one or more of these, society will stamp the word "Successful" on your bio and that may distract you from your hunger for something more satisfying than success – meaning and purpose.

We may experience spiritual hunger as cynicism about the world. We need to believe that God is opposed to oppression and violence, and is on the side of justice and peace. Despite the countless human actions that thwart what is right, and the self-serving motives that oppose the common good, God is helping the world move in the direction of a healthy, whole and harmonious creation, and calls on us to join the struggle for what is right and true and good.

You may experience spiritual hunger as despair. You may have a hole in your heart from the death of a loved one. You may feel helplessness in the face of an illness or loneliness. You may fear that this earthly life is all there is.

All of us yearn for much more than mere physical existence. We yearn for a life that is rich – a life nourished by love, joy, purpose, peace and hope. We discover such an abundant life in the one who is the bread of life.

That is why an active worship life is essential. We need to hear the scriptures and have them interpreted for our lives. We need to pray individually and we need to pray together as a community. We need to cultivate a grateful and generous heart by serving and giving. We need to sing hymns of faith because music strikes our soul in ways that words do not. We need to come to the Lord's Table to act out our belief that God loves us to the point of suffering and death, and promises resurrection in this life and beyond.

For eight years, Todd Weir "managed a homeless shelter and transitional housing program. He constantly evaluated their effectiveness at moving people from being homeless into permanent housing or treatment programs. No matter how hard they tried, they could not get their success rate above 70 percent. As he wrestled with ways to improve, he came to this conclusion. You can give people a room to live in, provide three meals day, offer job training and education, have supportive social workers and therapeutic programs, but you cannot give people meaning or purpose or hope. These things come from the realm of the spirit. The people who were successful in their programs found a purpose for living and the hope that things could get better. A man just getting out of prison wanted to be a better husband and find a job to support his family. A woman out of rehab wanted to become a better mother. An alcoholic found her higher power in a 12 Step group, and the love of God healed her empty heart so she could love again. Certainly basic needs for food and shelter are essential. It is extremely challenging to find meaning and purpose when life is in chaos and basic needs are unmet. But life is not meaningful simply because our first level of need in Maslow's hierarchy of basic human need is met. Once the stomach is full, we need love, community, purpose and hope to be truly fulfilled."2

If your goals in life are stability, predictability and security, then stay away from the life of the Spirit. God does not want your life to be stable; God wants your life to be interesting. God does not want your life to be predictable; God wants your life to be surprising. God does not want your life to be secure; God wants your life to be adventurous. If you want to go deeper; if you want to live richer, then feast on the bread of life!


  1. Gail R. O'Day, "The Gospel of John," The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 494.
  2. Todd Weir, "The Bread of Life," bloomingcactus.org, August 1, 2012.