In the Gospel reading, Jesus responds to the human need food for our the body, food for the mind,, and food for the soul.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand was Jesus’ response to people’s need for food for their bodies: “you ate your fill of the loaves”, he says in Saint John Chapter 6 Verse 26. In the time of Moses, when the people were in the wilderness, God responds to their hunger by sending them food from heaven, the people remind Jesus, in Verse 31, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” The story of Jesus is a story in which he shows his care for the practical, everyday needs of people. He cares about the things necessary for our physical lives.
Our world is filled with everything we could possibly need, we have more than enough to feed every mouth in the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture organization says that a billion tonnes of food are thrown away every year, an amount of food far greater than would be needed to ensure that every person in the world was properly fed. It should make us ask questions about the way we use what we have. When Jesus feeds the Five Thousand, every person was well fed, when we have a world where there is enough to make sure everyone is well fed, what does it say about uswhen we leave people to go hungry by simply wasting what would have fed them? “You ate your fill of loaves”, says Jesus to the crowd. Why are so many people not able to eat their fill in our own times?
There is need food for the mind. Jesus criticizes the crowd because they have not used their minds, because they have not thought about the things they have seen. In Verse 26, he says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs.” They are looking for him because they have shared in the loaves and the fish, but they have not thought about the meaning of what has happened, they have not seen the signs.
There is much in the world to fill the mind. We live in a world filled with signs, filled with things that point to our need to be different, but it is our choice whether we see those signs. If we see the signs, then we will strive for a different world, if, like the crowd, we simply ask for another sign and then another sign, then we turn away from the challenges to the survival of our planet.
Jesus says it is food for the soul that really matters. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life”, he tells the crowd in Verse 27. Jesus tells them that the food for their bodies has come from God, but true food is something much greater, it doesn’t just sustain their bodily life, it brings spiritual life. In Verses 32-33, we read, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'” Have the crowd really understood him? They say to him “Sir, give us this bread always.” What would they make of his response to them in Verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus is the food for the soul, but if people will not use their minds to see the signs, how will they see him as the one who calls them to a different life?
Faith is often seen as something unworldly, something purely spiritual, People retreat from the world and follow a religion that is private and spiritual, but Jesus never speaks in such terms, he talks about himself as one who gives life to the world, not as one who withdraws from it. If our souls have been fed by his words, then he expects us to go out and engage with his world. Because we have received his generosity, his grace, he expects us to bring generosity and grace into our world, he expects us to be people who ensure that no-one goes hungry, in body or in mind. If he is the one who gives life to the world, and we are not people who are bringing life to others, then how can we say we are his people? Receiving food for our souls, we must share what we have.