“When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces.” – John 6:12
If I were to survey a random sample of dominate culture Christians in North America with the question, “name one miracle of Jesus.” I’d put money down that Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 would be up there if not number one.
This story is at least a very popular story; one which points to the fullness we can find in God. It is a story often recited to children in Sunday school and we can understand why – It begins with rumbly tummies and ends with a miraculous snack from God. If you’re like me, you learned at a tender age that Jesus, among His many aliases, was the great snack giver!
The mornings I drop of my three year old at “school” we get there just in time for the 9:00am snack time. Sometimes I get a good look at what’s on the menu and one day last week I was legitimately confused by what I saw. It seemed to be a 3” tall by 2” diameter corn puff cylinder and no more than five grapes. Now, I’ve seen Bina eat an entire hamburger…when she was barely two years old so I thought, this snack is just enough to make her angry!
You see, I think the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand has lost it’s flavor, if you will, because we either see it as a childhood snack time story or we see it as an image of the abundance of God, and the fullness he readily waits to give us. Neither understanding speaks to the human condition, to our experience as people whose longings often go unrealized and whose hunger is so much deeper and complex than bread and fish could satisfy.
Even those who were there that day, who ate the bread and fish, though they were surely hungry after walking around a freaking sea (or a large lake), did not come simply to eat. If they were starving they would not have ventured on such a long and demanding hike to begin with. In fact, John 6:2 says, “…the people followed because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.”
Sure, some may have been hungry for food, but many were hungry for something else.
I’m starting to think this story of the 5,000 who were fed is actually a story of 5,000 who left more hungry than when they came. Though there were baskets of leftovers after the people “had all they wanted” I think it was only a surface satisfaction which left them still in want.
It is the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus in Luke’s gospel so full, almost bloated with a self-described track record of obedience to God’s Law. He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says to him, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” In essence Jesus says, you seem quite full. Let yourself be hungry. Then come follow me. Eternal life, the Kingdom of God is a meal we cannot come to with full stomachs. More accurately, eternal life is a person who wants to fill us and if we are to come to Him we must come to Him in need.
This rich man, the crowd of 5,000 plus, come to Jesus expecting that if He is going to do anything it is going to be to satisfy their hunger. We do this too! We either avoid coming to God because we assume he doesn’t want to satisfy us or we come to Him assuming that if He is to act it will be for our fulfillment.
But the Kingdom of God is always upside down. What I’ve seen so often is that Jesus satisfies us not with greater satisfaction but with deeper hunger. This is what discipleship is – not a process of greater fulfillment but one of deeper hunger. Through our hunger we discover depths in ourselves, hungers we didn’t know existed, longings we would have unknowingly never met had we avoided ur hunger pains.
Sometimes the depths of the hunger Christ creates in us looks nothing like hunger at all, but an ever present darkness, a nothingness, a loss of appetite, which itself is often the birth places of new hungers. Sure, Christ promises to comfort us, give us rest and satisfy our hunger, but our true comfort will always be a growing discomfort, our rest a growing restlessness and our satisfaction an ever deepening hunger.