Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35
August 2, 2015
|Annie Watson, ARCWP|
Apparently, God is a fan of bread. No low-carb diets for the Creator! If God didn’t like bread, God wouldn’t have created so many different types of bread. It is the most basic food staple there is.
Bread is a common food item in the biblical writings, from the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate on Passover to the bread Jesus broke with his disciples claiming it was his “body.”
One of the interesting things about the Bible is that it will often take something very common and mundane, like bread, and elevate it by attributing spiritual qualities to it. Our two readings from Exodus and John highlight the “spirituality of bread.”
In the first story from the book of Exodus we read about a bread-like substance called “manna.” The Israelites had escaped from Egyptian slavery and now they find themselves in a desert with little or no food. They complain to their leader, Moses, that as slaves in Egypt they fared better. They would prefer to go back to Egypt.
Who wouldn’t? Have you ever been hungry? Of course you have, and yet few of us have missed many meals due to a lack of food. We’re talking about real hunger here, that which is experienced these days by nearly 15% of the people who live in developing nations.
According to the story in Exodus, God supplied the stomach-grumbling Israelites with manna in the morning and quail in the evening. If we were dieticians we might call this carb/protein combination the Wilderness Wandering Diet. Probably not highly recommended!
What was the manna? We don’t know. The writer introduces it by claiming that God said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.” A few verses later we discover a few more details about it: “In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.” Sounds yummy . . . and soggy.
We don’t know what the manna was, but we know what the writer is trying to say: Something needed was supplied unexpectedly. In fact, the word “manna” is occasionally used for anything that is needed and supplied unexpectedly. Have you ever received a monetary gift from someone at just the right time? Have you ever received a kind or encouraging word from someone at the moment it was needed most? Manna from heaven.
Before you start thinking that the Israelites got a raw deal with soggy bread in the morning, have you ever had an Italian beef sandwich dipped in au jus sauce or a French Dip roast beef sandwich? Soggy bread can be a spiritual experience!
Our second “bread” story is found in John 6, which comes on the heels of the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which featured fish and bread on the menu (there’s that protein/carb diet again!).
The people know a good thing when they see it (or eat it) so they go looking for Jesus again. They even go so far as to get in boats and sail across the Sea of Galilee looking for him. Full stomachs don’t stay full for long.
When they find Jesus, he quickly understands their motive for finding him, and says to them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” In other words, you are missing the point, which is bigger than your stomachs. He then tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
Those are nice words, but I imagine they fell on hollow ears with people who had hollow stomachs. We should never use this passage to tell hungry people, “All you really need is Jesus,” or “Man cannot live by bread alone.” That would be cruel.
Nevertheless, John’s Gospel is trying to prod us to think beyond our physical stomachs, to think about how we might nourish our spiritual stomachs. We are spiritual beings, which means that it is possible for us to focus on things other than our material and physical needs. John’s Jesus reflects our spiritual needs where he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry” (or thirsty).
What we find in both the manna in the Exodus story and the “bread of life” in John’s Gospel is the notion that something needed is received unexpectedly. No one can claim that this is always true, and yet I don’t think many of us would be here today if our spiritual needs were not being met on some level.
Both stories have something else in common: soggy bread. We understand the sogginess of the manna in the book of Exodus, but where do we find soggy bread in John’s account?
The answer is: In Jesus himself. The late Marcus Borg refers to Jesus as a “God-intoxicated” person. This is Borg’s way of saying Jesus was “Spirit-filled.” Jesus, the bread of life, was soggy. He was drenched in the Spirit. He spent so much time swimming in the “living water” that he started to resemble a big prune (spiritually speaking of course).
Sogginess is a great metaphor for the God-soaked life. As Christians, we begin our journeys with a ritual bath called “baptism,” and although most of us are not fully immersed in the water, it does serve as a wonderful sign about life in the Spirit. As Christ followers we should be bathed in the waters of baptism, soaked in scripture, and saturated in the Spirit.
Maybe it’s time for the inauguration of a new Christian symbol: soggy bread. Reflect on these words:
Soggy bread is a symbol of God’s grace, dripping in unconditional love. Soggy bread represents the peace of God which spills over in terms of our ability to understand it. Soggy bread is served alongside the overflowing cup of goodness and mercy that follows us all the days of our lives. Soggy bread points to the justice that rolls down like waters—an ever-flowing stream of righteousness. Soggy bread is a picture of those who have been anointed—drenched in the spirit—to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor. Soggy bread is a metaphor for the fullness of God, filled to overflowing, soaked to saturation.