The Food Rule
John 6:35, 41-51
Many churches operate by an unspoken rule, which is employed for one reason above all others. This unspoken rule, when used, brings people together. We call it the covered-dish-dinner rule, the catered-meal rule, or the coffee-and-donut rule. We Christians understand that the presence of food can make the difference between high and low participation because it not only fills our tummies but it evokes our passion. We enjoy food, and we are more likely to attend a congregational meeting when fried chicken and chocolate pie are part of the agenda.
Food is a source of great passion, which means it can also incite arguments and complaints. Waiters and waitresses handle more than their fair share of grumbling about entrees that did not meet expectations. People on diets fuss about foods they are not supposed to eat. My three-year-old daughter complains that the healthy food we serve her at dinnertime is “yucky” because she would rather feast on a platter of candy than eat her fruits and vegetables.
We are highly critical of our food, so what can truly satisfy our hunger? In our nutrition-conscience society, no one answer would please every age group. Infants desire a milk diet; active teenagers crave an unlimited calorie diet, and some adults live for a high-protein, low-carb diet. Our different ideas about nutrition will occasionally lead to arguments about what foods should and should not be eaten. Even faithful churchgoers mirror this behavior by arguing about the kinds of spiritual foods that will satisfy our deepest hunger, which perhaps best describes the grumbling crowd who followed Jesus.
Jesus had already claimed that whoever comes to him “will never be hungry” but now, when he professes to be the “bread of life,” the crowd loses their patience with him. They begin complaining and grumbling because they had been around Jesus. They watched Jesus grow up in their neighborhood. They knew his mother and his father. There was no way, they thought, he could have come down from heaven as the bread of life, and so they conclude that his claim is preposterous and arrogant, if not blasphemous. But their self-confidence prevents them from recognizing the truth that stands right in front of their eyes. It keeps them from seeing Jesus as the one who can satisfy their hunger.
There is nothing wrong with confidence until it inhibits trust. My daughter is confident that a large bag of candy will satisfy her hunger. She will argue, “I’m not hungry for chicken. I want to eat candy,” but her selfassurance obscures the truth about candy. Eating a bag of candy for dinner has little nutritional value, and it would most likely make her sick. As virtually every other parent on the planet, I wish she would trust that her mother and I know what is best for her.
Developing this kind of trust takes faith, and yet faith is mysterious. It is not a choice we make, but it is the work of God. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father” (v. 44). God is the one who draws us in. God is the initiator, the one pulling us toward faith. We can discuss every possible way to satisfy our deepest hunger, but we can’t accomplish this work on our own. Therefore, our best course of action, according to John 6, is to place our trust in God who will satisfy our hunger through Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done because we are an independent kind of people who seek to take care of our own lives and provide for our own needs. We would rather trust in our own capabilities than rely on outside assistance, but discipleship calls us to follow Jesus and following, by definition, involves trust. When we place our trust in Jesus, we are saying that we trust that the Lord will lead us to green pastures and still waters, which will satisfy our deepest hunger.
A major shift in the way we live occurs when we place our trust in God. For starters, we worry less and begin to enjoy the journey of life more. We begin to notice more of God’s gifts that meet us along the way, like fresh summer vegetables and the joy of family and friends. When we trust that Jesus is leading us toward an abundant life, our hungers are put into perspective; we become less focused on what we desire and more grateful for God’s gifts. As a result, we are more willing to share our blessings and more willing to offer help to those who are hungry. In more or less words, we are sharing life, which is doubly beneficial for it not only helps the person we serve but also satisfies our hunger. By placing our trust in God, the words of Jesus become a reality for “whoever comes to [him] will never be hungry” (v. 35).
Our world tempts us to hunger for many things that will take us off the path of abundant life and will instead lead us down a path of dissatisfaction. It is for this reason that we need to hunger for the right things. Jesus once said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) and thus, we should hunger for a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus who is our bread of life. After all, Jesus invites us to feast on his body. Jesus is our source for survival, and when we nurture this relationship, our hungers are put in a proper perspective so that we will indeed hunger and thirst for the right things, which will ultimately satisfy us with the gift of eternal life.