What are you hungry for right now in your life? Maybe it’s just bacon or grits or a summer tomato. But probably, if you think about it a little, you are hungry for something deeper. Maybe you want more from a relationship, or resolution to some emotional issues that continue to plague you. Maybe you want more in your vocation. Maybe you hunger for a deeper experience of love or are looking for some meaning in life that eludes you. What are you hungry for right now in your life?
The whole phenomenon of hunger is integral to life. Every living creature gets hungry. I sit outside early in the morning on my back porch and watch the birds and squirrels start their day responding to their hunger. The whole rhythm of their lives revolves around hunger and pursuing food. There’s a hawk that sits on the highest part of the tallest tree in our neighborhood. He looks for prey, then swoops down off his perch to grab what he’s hungry for. I wonder what he’s thinking up there. Is he just looking for the first bird or animal that comes along or does he sit up there thinking, I’m in the mood for dove today, and passes over the squirrels and rodents.
Humans cultivate hunger. Supper is a big deal at our house. The question each day is not just what can we pull out of the freezer that is easy but what sounds good today? Steak? Lamb chops? Shrimp? Pot roast? Tuna? Salmon? Catfish? Chicken livers? We even had octopus one night this week. We all get hungry yet different people hunger for different things at different times.
Why is it that we get hungry? What purpose does it serve? Most questions like that end up in more questions rather than answers but it seems that hunger is part of the overall plan for creation. We get hungry and we pursue food. That’s part of our primal wiring. Humans cultivate hunger and it becomes, not just part of our survival but part of the great joy and adventure of life.
There’s the earthly kind of hunger we experience and maybe it could be said there’s a heavenly sort of hunger. I’m not sure God gets hungry for chicken livers or lamb chops but scripture makes it pretty clear that God hungers for righteousness, for peace, for healing, for our salvation, for reconciliation, for a deeper relationship with each of us. And maybe our hunger for those things is part of the way we are created in God’s image. Our earthly hunger and pursuit of physical food keeps us alive physically. Our heavenly hunger and pursuit of spiritual food keeps us alive spiritually.
The feeding of the 5000 is before us today, (which maybe should be the feeding of the 12,500 because if half the men brought their wives that would be 7,500 and if each of those families had two children, that would be 5000 more but we’ll call it the feeding of the 5000,). It is easily the most famous of all the miracle stories, and it begins with hunger. It actually starts with a hunger in Jesus. It starts, When Jesus heard this¦. What Jesus heard is that John the Baptist had been killed, executed in fact, for stirring up the masses, talking about the coming of the messiah, saying flat out that the political empire and the religious establishment were not doing their jobs. John’s job was to set the stage for Jesus. Now John is dead and the time has come for Jesus to fully embrace his messiahship. Things have unfolded and the hour is now fast approaching for Jesus to fulfill his life’s purpose. Jesus hears that news and something begins to shift inside him, his call from God the Father deepening, a sense that God wants him to move forward, a hunger to answer that call and live into his purpose.
How does Jesus respond to that hunger? He gets into a boat and heads for a desolate place, a place where no one else will be, a place where he can feel the hunger and figure it out and understand what God wants from him. He goes apart to cultivate the hunger.
But of course, when he gets to the shore, the place he thinks will be desolate and quiet, there are 5000 people waiting for him, or maybe 12,500. Their hunger has taken them there too. They are hungry for hope, for healing, for salvation and resolution to the burning questions they have. Jesus, they have been told, brings a fresh new message that God’s kingdom is open to all who want more in life, that the very most sinful of people are all loved and valuable, that the kingdom isn’t closed up tight but wide open. God is not mean and cruel and out to get them. God is merciful and forgiving and wants each of them to let him into their hearts. They are hungry for this new gospel and they go to find Jesus to be with him.
The story starts with a spiritual hunger, a heavenly hunger, on the part of Jesus and the crowd. They want more, they need more, they know more is available and they go after it.
It’s a long day there with the crowd. The reason many of them have come is because they are sick and lame and blind and have demons. They are grieving and broken and don’t know where else to turn. Probably they have tried many remedies and probably they have gone to the synagogues and the temple only to be turned away as unclean and evil. This is God’s house “ you don’t belong here “ they have been told. But here is a man, rumored to be from God, who says, You are God’s people. Come to me and I will give you what you desire most. It’s not Jesus’ way to wave a wand from the boat and heal them in a fell swoop. You remember how he heals. He goes person to person. He asks what is needed. He listens. He touches. He makes a connection and God’s healing flows through him into those who are sick. They are healed and the sense of awe and appreciation flows through the crowd in that desolate place. They are hungry in many ways and Jesus feeds them with his touch.
And then the day grows late. It’s time to go, the disciples tell him. It’s a long walk back to the various villages and everyone will need supper soon. Great job, Jesus. But it’s time to eat. Actually a rather kind and compassionate thoughtfulness on their part. They’re not arguing about who Jesus likes the most. They’re thinking about how to care for the immense crowd. They are hungry for supper but they’re aware that the others are hungry too.
And Jesus cultivates their hunger. They need not go away; you give them something to eat. The teachable moment presents itself. When we are ready to learn, the teacher comes. When an opening inside our hearts occurs, the great wisdom of God can enter. A hunger in the disciples to respond to the needs of others is voiced. And Jesus touches their hearts.
Their response is perfectly reasonable and actually part of the teachable moment. We have only five loaves here and two fish. We didn’t bring enough for all these people. We can’t do that. That’s right, Jesus responds. You don’t have enough. But with God all things are possible. You offer what you have and God will provide the rest. You don’t have to save the world on your own. But don’t run from the needs of the world. Don’t just take care of yourself and tell everyone else to do the same. Offer yourself. Open yourself. Have a heart. Hunger means that God is getting ready to do something big. You don’t want to miss that.
And so the miracle is carried out. The disciples stay. Jesus gets the crowd to sit down. The great messianic picnic is laid out. All ate and were satisfied. The hunger of the crowd is met with a feast. There wasn’t enough. But more is given by God than they can even take in at one time, a miracle that will last throughout their lives, a miracle that continues to feed us with hope and joy.
When we are hungry, it is the great sign that a teachable moment is presenting itself, that God is about to meet our need and exceed our greatest desire. The lacks that we experience in our lives, the lack of peace, of resolution, of meaning, of purpose, whatever is lacking in our lives, God is about to provide. Our various hungers remind us that we need more than we actually can provide for ourselves. They also remind us that a great feast is prepared for each of us. When we are hungry, God is attentive.
Cultivate your hunger for God, ask for him to provide what you need most. And know again this day that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the great food that sustains us through this world and into the very kingdom of God.