"Not by Bread Alone"#86-26
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 24, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Not by Bread Alone)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 6:1-29
Recently, I spoke on the phone with a friend from high school, Declan. I got to know Declan during high school through some mutual friends. They had told me, "Oh, you got to come over to Declan's house. It's just him and his dad who lives there, and his dad lets him do whatever he wants," so we would go over there, and we would raid the fridge, and the pantry. We would eat whatever we wanted. We would watch whatever movies we wanted, play whatever video games, be as rowdy as we wanted. One weekend, Declan's dad was out of town, and we started a mosh pit in the upstairs game room. If you didn't go to high school or college during the 1990s, a mosh pit is when people run and smash into each other while listening to loud music. There we were, in the game room, moshing, and crashing into furniture, and we were all like, "Jump! Jump! Jump! Everybody jump! Jump! Jump!" and I was insane in the membrane, and I jump into the wall, expecting to bounce off it and back into the mosh pit but, instead, my shoulder actually buckled the sheet rock, leaving a giant indentation of my outline: Roger Rabbit style.
Thinking back on this, that was the beginning of the end of my glory days at Declan's house. After that event, Declan started to see me for what I was. I was a user. I was using him. I was using him for his house, the awesome hangout pad. I was doing things in his house that I would never dream of doing in my house. I was treating it like a circus. He started to see this and stopped inviting us over. It took me a little while longer for me to recognize what I was doing, that I was using his friendship, rather than enjoying him as a friend. Was there ever a person in your life that you used, or is there a person in your life now that you are using? What I mean by that is that you are using them for what they can give you, rather than enjoying them for who they are. We've been going through the Gospel of John on this program. Remember, the Gospel of John is a specialized biography about this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, the most talked-about human being in history. We've gone up through John 4. We're going to skip chapter 5, and dive into chapter 6.
I think this distinction will help us understand what's going on in John 6. That's the distinction between using somebody for what they can give you, versus enjoying them for who they are. See, Jesus is a miracle worker. He's a healer. You can read about Him outside of the Bible. Historians, writers, talk about this Jesus of Nazareth who went about healing, and doing miracles, and signs, and He attracted crowds. People followed Him because they knew that He could give them something that they wanted. They were using Him.
So this is how it works in John 6.
"After these things, Jesus crossed over to the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee, that is the Sea of Tiberius, and a great crowd of people was following Him, because they were observing the miraculous signs that He was performing on those who were sick. Then Jesus went up to the mountain, and He was sitting there with His disciples. The Passover, the Feast of the Jews, the Passover was near, and Jesus lifted up His eyes, and when He sees the crowd coming toward Him, and He says to Philip, one of His disciples, 'Where shall we buy bread for them to eat?' He said this to test him. Philip answered, and said, 'Eight months' wages worth of bread won't be enough, even for each of them to have a bite,' and another one of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, he says, 'Look! There's a boy here who's got five barley loaves, and two fish, but what are these for so many?' Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down.' There was a lot of grass there, and the men sat down, about 5,000 of them in number. Jesus took the bread, and when He had given thanks, He passed it out to those who were seated, and likewise with the fish, as much as they wanted. When everyone had eaten their fill, He says to His disciples, 'Gather up the pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.' They gathered them, and they filled 12 baskets, and when the crowd saw the miraculous sign that Jesus had performed, they started saying, 'This is the Prophet who has come into the world,' and Jesus, because He knew that they were about to force Him to be king, He withdrew, to the mountain, by Himself.
"When evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, where they got into the boat, and they set off to the other side of the sea toward Capernaum. By this time, it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. There was a strong wind, and so the sea grew rough. When they had rode out, three, three and a half miles onto the water, they see Jesus coming to them, walking upon the water. They were terrified, and He says to them, 'I am. Don't be afraid,' and they wanted to take Him into the boat, but just at that moment, they reached the other side, to the place where they were going. The next day, when the crowd that was on the other side of the sea realized that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats, and went off toward Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
"And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, 'Rabbi. When did You get here?' Jesus said to them, 'I am telling you the truth. You are seeking Me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the bread, and had your bellies filled. Don't work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because on Him, God the Father has set His seal of approval.' They answered and said to Him, 'What works must we do to do the work of God?' Jesus said to them, 'The work of God is this. Trust in the One that He has sent.' They said to Him, 'Well, what sign will You give us, so that we may see, and trust in You? What will You do? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, as it is written. "He gave them bread. He gave them bread from heaven to eat."' Jesus answered and said to them, 'I am telling you the truth. It is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven. It is My Father, who is in heaven, who gives the true bread, because the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven to give life to the world.' They said, 'Sir, from now on, give us this bread.' And He said, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry. Whoever trusts in Me will never be thirsty. I have told you, you have seen, and still, you do not trust.'"
That's from John's Gospel, the first half of chapter 6. I recently saw a sign that said, "Man shall not live by bread alone." Anonymous. Anonymous? That's how it goes with these sayings that we repeat and use. We forget their origin. Maybe you've heard variations of that saying, like this one: "Man shall not live by bread alone. He also needs donuts, muffins, and cakes as well." Those riffs on that ancient proverb reflect a deep suspicion about human beings, that we are in fact ruled by our bellies, by our bodily urges. Two-thousand years ago the Roman poet Juvenal criticized the ills of democracy. He said that the masses would love any politician who gave them a free meal, and a ticket to the Colosseum, because the masses, in fact, are only devoted to two things: bread and circuses. That I think reflects an even deeper cynicism about human beings, the belief that we are in fact users, that we exist to use things, like machines use electricity, like a virus uses a host, that in reality, we are not responsible persons in relationship with other responsive persons, but we are truly objects in collision, and the biggest meathead in the mosh pit is the one who rules the day, or so the belief goes. We have this proverb, "Man shall not live by bread alone." This proverb that pushes us to consider that there is more to being human than consuming bread and circuses. There is something personal, something relational, about being human, something spiritual. Consider this quote from 19th-century English sculptor and author Eric Gill. He said the following: "Science is analytical, descriptive, and informative. Man cannot live by bread alone, but by science, he attempts to do so. Hence, the deadliness of all that is purely scientific." I think we should hear him put the emphasis on that word, purely. He's not saying that science in and of itself is bad. He's only saying that science can only do so much—the deadliness of all that is purely scientific, all that is merely scientific. Science can teach you a lot about objects in collision, but not about persons in relation.
Case in point: the doctor who has no bedside manner. Bedside manner is a way that patients express their desire to be treated like a person—not an object to be prodded, not a problem to be diagnosed, but a person to be in relation with, a person to enjoy. Sadly, I think our culture is losing its bedside manner. A recent study done by the Barna Group, in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, discovered that people these days mostly talk about bread. Bread understood broadly. The fact is that we are having fewer spiritual conversations now than we were 25 years ago in the 90s, and when they define spiritual, they defined it broadly. Any conversation about God, or faith in God, or lack of faith in God, or spirituality, in general. We are having fewer of these conversations now than we were 25 years ago. The studies show that one in 10 Americans has only one conversation, spiritual conversation, a week, only one in 10. Fewer than one in 10, but the average American adult says that they have only about one spiritual conversation a year. Maybe it's because we're too embarrassed to talk about this. Maybe we don't have the language, but the fact is we are not talking about this spiritual dimension of what it means to be human.
If you think about your physical diet, there are signs that things aren't right with your physical diet, signs of undernourishment or malnourishment. For example, fatigue or lack of energy may be a sign of an iron deficiency in your diet. Brittle hair is a sign that you're not getting enough fatty acids or protein in your diet. If you have cracked skin in the corners of your mouth, it could be an indication that you're not getting enough riboflavin in your diet. Those are physiological signs that something's wrong with your diet. What are the spiritual signs of malnourishment? There are many that we could reference: rising rates of suicide, rising divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, depression, loneliness or, more simply, treating persons like objects. If you treat a person like an object, that's a sign of spiritual malnourishment. If you treat a person like an object rather than an infinitely, inherently valuable person with whom to relate, and to enjoy, for their own sake, if you treat a person like an object, that is a sign of spiritual malnourishment.
Because there's more to being human than consuming bread. It doesn't mean that we don't need bread. Sometimes hyper-spiritual people will take it that way, as a way to, reason to disregard real, physical needs. Every human being that you meet is a physical creature with legitimate physical needs. Let's not be like the people that St. James scolded in his letter. You remember, he said, "If a brother or sister is lacking proper clothing, or doesn't have daily food, and you say to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed, be filled,' but does not give them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" Faith without works is dead. If your brother's hungry, if your sister's hungry, see to it that they get some food. Jesus taught us to pray for daily bread. See to it that they get what they need, but don't let that be the only thing you see to, because there's more to being human than consuming. This is all that Jesus is trying to teach the people in John 6. He says to them, "Stop working for the food that spoils, and focus on the food that endures to eternal life, which I will give you."
I really like how He asks this question of Philip before it all happened. He says, "Philip, where do you think we could buy enough food to feed all these people?" Poor Philip, he doesn't know the kind of Person he's dealing with just yet. He starts going on about not having enough time, not having enough money, and not having enough bread. He doesn't know that he's dealing with the personal Creator of space and time, the Provider of daily bread. And so Jesus has to show him, and He shows us by His provision, His abundant provision. By treading upon the waves, He says, "I am. I am the personal Representative of the personal Source of all life, and I am here for you, personally. You don't need to be afraid. I will take care of you. I delight in you. Not because of what you can give Me, but because of who I made you to be. Will you delight in Me? Not for what I can give you, but for who I am."
Thinking about Jesus' words, in John 6, pushed me to give my friend Declan a call, and I apologized for using his friendship like that.
He said, "Mikey, that's okay." As we reminisced on the glory days and tried to catch up on the last couple of decades, I realized that even though I had been in some ways using his friendship, through the process I had actually gotten to know him pretty well and enjoy him for who he is. He put his foot down at times. He drew the line. He kicked us out a couple times, but he welcomed us back. He just wanted to be a friend. He was enjoying us for who we were struggling to be, and I told Declan that he was for me a sort of Christ figure, because Jesus is a friend like that. Jesus knows we need stuff, and He shares His. He knows that in many ways, we are using Him. We use Him to get what we want, but it doesn't stop Him from being a Friend. It didn't stop Him from creating you and giving you everything that you have. It didn't stop Him from sacrificing His life to save yours. It didn't stop Him from rising from the dead to welcome you into His Father's house. He will draw the line when the mosh pit gets out of hand.
There is a day coming when He will draw the line between darkness and light, between truth and falsehood. He must draw that line, because we can't live without Him. We cannot live by bread alone. That's His saying. "Man shall not live by bread alone," He said, "but by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." And His Word is a word of welcome into His Father's house, to know Him, and to enjoy Him forever.
I'm going to pray to my Father, and if you would join me, I would be honored.
Father, I confess that I am a user. I have used You, and Your gifts for my own advantage. I have used Your Son Jesus, taking His grace for granted. I have used the people that You've put around me. Forgive me for this. Thank You for giving me people who put up with me, who bear with me. Thank You for Your Son, who patiently leads me when I am not yet the person that You have made me to be. Give me a new heart that I would enjoy You and, enjoying You, so enjoy Your Son, and enjoying Your Son, so enjoy all the people that You bring before my eyes, knowing that they are made in Your image, an image so gloriously restored in Your Son.
I pray this in His Name. Amen.
Reflections for February 24, 2019
Title: Not by Bread Alone
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For a transcript of today's message, as well as audio from previous broadcasts, go to lutheranhour.org. Once again, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. Once again, I have joining me, my friend, Rev. Dr. Stanish Stanley. He's the executive director of Christian Friends of New Americans. And he's joining me in the studio today to talk a little bit more about John 6. Stanish, tell us a little more about your culture, specifically Hinduism, which is the major religion of your country.
Stanish Stanley: What one sees, and one is struck about, especially when you talk about India and Hinduism, is the amount of gods that they have, the number of gods. There are so many gods.
Mike Zeigler: Thousands, right?
Stanish Stanley: Oh, yes. They ...
Mike Zeigler: Eighty-thousand or something like that?
Stanish Stanley: It's 330-million gods.
Mike Zeigler: 330 million gods? All right.
Stanish Stanley: Yes. For everything, there is a god. Like for instance, there is the god, especially where I was growing up, the god Ganesha. Ganapati was a very popular god. He is the obstacle remover, he is the god of blessings, auspiciousness, and all that. To explain Hinduism, I would put it like this, the normal Hindu or the average Hindu would see his role in this world as something that is getting through a maze of challenges, obstacles, and achieving his goal and realizing his blessing or prosperity, in the midst of all the challenges that are happening around him.
Mike Zeigler: I've heard stories that you used to carry your dad's bag when he did house visits in India. He was a Lutheran pastor in India. Tell us a little about that experience of evangelism or speaking God's Word in that culture.
Stanish Stanley: Yeah, my initial forays in pastoral ministry was pretty much driven by my father being a Lutheran pastor in Mumbai. And most of our church people used to live in the slums of Mumbai, so they were low-end people, not well to do but very strong on their faith. They loved to come to church and were very connected with church life and for Indian pastors, we've got to do our regular house visits to make sure that the church people are still coming to church every Sunday, even though they might be very committed to our Lord.
There are various factors. They are like, traveling long distances to come to church and things like that were not easy. And so, I had to carry my father's bag and go to houses and there used to be prayer; there used to be the counseling sessions that would take place. Invariably, many times I would see the friends whom you'd visit, would also bring in requests of— "Hey, this Hindu neighbor has a problem here. Could the pastor come and just pray for her?" And we would enter into those houses, and there would be these pictures of all these five, six gods posted on the walls. And then, sometimes I would even see Jesus as one of the gods, sitting there. And so, that's how I kind of started thinking about this entire thing about how does Hinduism accommodate even Jesus as one of their gods.
Mike Zeigler: Sure.
Stanish Stanley: I understood very soon that, hey, Jesus is one of the gods because He's powerful. He can do miracles, and that's what Hindus would love to see Jesus doing for them.
Mike Zeigler: If you, assuming you've seen a Hindu person come to faith in Jesus, do you sense that there is a light bulb moment where they see how Jesus is different, that you can't just put Him on the same level as these other gods?
Stanish Stanley: Definitely. Yes. I believe there are moments where, when it is struck by that moment of utter need that there are many Hindus who approach Jesus for answer to prayer, answer to their specific needs. There are also other stories where Hindus have come to Christ because of what Christ represents, what Jesus represents, what the Jesus community represents.
For instance, especially Dalit Hindus of India are the people are the lowest strata of society, they have come to Christ because of what, especially what the Jesus community did for them because they represented the embracing Jesus —Jesus who touched them at the very core of their lives as and how they were the meanest, the lowest, menial kind of people.
One of the main problems, especially for high-caste Hindus, is Jesus can be accepted as a god but cannot be the only One. He has to come in the pantheon of gods. And that's where for them, it is so difficult to accept Christianity and just be there because that would mean that they would have to change. It is one of the most difficult things to do.
The Gospel of Jesus is a Gospel that challenges people to change from their lifestyle, repent, be made new again, be restored again to a new kind of relationship, not only with God, but also with fellow people. And for a divisive structure as the Hindu caste system is, it is difficult for those things to be accepted and lived out for average Hindu. And that's where one of the biggest problems for Hindus to convert to Christianity happens.
Mike Zeigler: For all the differences between our cultures, I think that what you'd said about the Jesus community needing to be the representative to the people in the culture, to show them who Jesus is and how He's different.
Stanish Stanley: That's true.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)