We know at once that this is not literal hunger for ordinary food. It is similar to other startling metaphors pointing to a spiritual reality, as when he said "I am the Good Shepherd, " or "I am the Light of the world," or "I am the Vine." But what does it mean?
We all know what ordinary hunger is. We come in from a long hike in the mountains, and we say "I am ravenous." There is no anxiety. We are just hungry. We hope a meal is ready for us. But how would you feel if you had nothing to eat for a week? And had no hope of getting food to eat again?
We could identify three stages in a longer period of hunger. First there is a feeling of emptiness, a gut feeling that makes us long for food. Then there is gnawing restlessness like an animal that has not been fed. It paces up and down, gets desperate, claws at the cage. Finally weakness sets in. A person without food can't work, he or she lies down helplessly.
Those three stages correspond to spiritual hunger when we lack spiritual food.. First there is an unsatisfied longing for meaning in our life. We need a sense of destiny. That is one reason we come to a service like this. We need "food for thought." A good sermon to give us "something to chew on." And if we do not get that kind of spiritual food, we feel hungry, unsatisfied.
The next stage of spiritual hunger is a spiritual restlessness. We pace up and down like a caged animal. We try this and we try that. That is why people go into Zen Buddhism, or astrology, new sexual experiences. They rush into some cause to save the world. Or they splurge on shopping they can't afford, or fly off sightseeing. But nothing satisfies.
The third stage is when apathy takes hold. We become bored, lethargic. There is no zest for life. We can't pray. We settle for spiritual passivity. We think about ending it all. We wish we could die.
That is what Jesus is talking about when he said "I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry." He claims to satisfy our spiritual hunger. It is not something we have to work up by trying very hard. It is food that we can receive for our heart to be satisfied. He claims to be the spiritual food that gives meaning to our life. We can take him into our spiritual life.
How do we do that? First we have to admit the diagnosis. "Yes, there is a void in my heart. I am spiritually restless and unsatisfied. I have tried this and that, and my life has become more and more meaningless. "I am desperate. I am getting to the third stage of giving up. There is no hope. No direction. I am giving in to lethargy. Spiritually I am ready to roll over and give up the struggle.
Having admitted the diagnosis, we turn to the Jesus who said "I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry." Maybe we don't have much faith. We can hardly hope there could be a change. Could I ever regain the zest of a little child, and start living again? But our lack of faith is no problem for him. Just admit it, and say "Lord, I haven't got any faith. If you can do anything with me please take me in hand. My one hope is to look to you as my spiritual physician."
When you go in faith to a doctor, he or she gives you a prescription. All you have to do is eat the pills. You don't have to understand how they work. With ordinary food we just eat the meat and potatoes, and feel satisfied.
Just as you sit down at table to eat food, Jesus gave us a way of picturing our spiritual eating. You can do this on your own as you kneel quietly by your bedside. "Lord, I can't imagine how you are going to meet the heart needs of my life. But I certainly need you to satisfy my spiritual hunger."
But you don't have to wait till you go to bed this evening. You could talk to him as we kneel for a moment of prayer. Just say "Lord, I am hungry for you. I accept you into my life right now."
Jesus also gave the bread and wine of the communion service as a regular means of spiritual eating and drinking every week. "Take and eat. This is my body. This is my blood." There will be an opportunity to do that at the end of this service. But Jesus loves you, and he does not mind where and how you receive him. If your heart is open to him, he can do the rest.
Prayer Jesus, I admit that I am spiritually hungry, and restless.
I have almost given up hope. Thank you for the promise you gave. "Whoever
comes to me will never be hungry." I need that. I am not sure how you will
satisfy my heart longing, but I come to you with my little faith, and take
you into my life. You can do the rest. Amen.