Jesus and the Famished

Have you ever experienced real hunger? I don’t mean our everyday tummy cravings, which we usually manage to satisfy within hours, if not minutes. I mean hungry to the point that finding food becomes an obsession, and you can’t think of anything else? To the point where you cease to care where it came from, how dirty or stale or half rotten it is? Or what you have to do to get it? Where pride is no longer a consideration and no humiliation is too low to stoop?

I think that this is the kind of desperation that Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.”

Jesus, Luke 6:21a, NIV

I like how the Passion Translation puts it even better:

“How filled you become when you are
consumed with hunger and desire,
for you will be completely satisfied.

Jesus, Luke 6:21a, TPT

To be this hungry is to know one’s belly to be empty. It is an all-consuming need, an urgent longing, a ravenous yearning. The spiritual correlation is easy to see. Those who are spiritually hungry know their own emptiness and need. We may have come to a place in our lives when old beliefs and practices no longer satisfy. They ring hollow. But yet we still hunger for the real thing. In fact, we may become desperate to find it. Contrast this with the opposite state. When we are stuffed, eating more food begins to become distasteful and repellent. We become sleepy and may be inclined to push our plates away, even to be nauseated by food. Those who are not conscious of spiritual hunger can easily become complacent, smug, bored, and uninterested in growth. Here’s what Jesus had to say about such people:

“How terrible for you who have plenty now,
    because you will be hungry.”

Jesus, Luke 6:25a

There’s an interesting story in John’s Gospel about a time when thousands of people came out into an open, grassy place to listen to Jesus talk. They stayed there, mesmerized, for three whole days, and Jesus became concerned about them. “I have compassion for these people,” he tells his disciples, “Because they’ve been with me for three days already and have had nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” He had been feeding the crowd spiritually with his words of life, but he doesn’t stop there. In his compassion, he also addresses their physical hunger. One of his disciples tells him that a certain boy has five small loaves of bread and two fish to share, and Jesus starts breaking off pieces of bread and fish, passing it to the disciples to distribute. Soon, 5,000 people have been fed, and the leftovers amount to more food than they had started with! After this, the crowd starts trailing after him, like stray dogs hoping for treats. But he can see that their desire has more to do with their filled stomachs than with true spiritual longing, and he calls them on it, declaring that what they need now is not more miracle bread, but he himself:

“I am the bread of life. 
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus, John 6:35,NIV

At that, many of his disappointed followers give up on him and go home. But when he asks his closest disciples if they also want to leave, Peter answers for the group:

“Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter, John 6:68, NIV

These are not the words of the complacent, but of the desperate. They reveal that Peter understands the poverty of life without the love and purpose that Jesus came to reveal. Jesus as the perfect image and revelation of God is the One Thing that matters. Without “words of eternal life,” this earthly life can be meaningless, pointless, and absurd.

The challenge for disillusioned evangelicals is sorting out the real Jesus in his pure and startling essence from all the crap that the church has made him into. How do we go about sorting out the real from the phony, the essential from the cultural? (For example, what the heck does Jesus have to do with the right of civilians to own and carry around weapons of war?) My advice to those wounded by the church is to go back to reading only the stories of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for a while. Hear him speaking his own words and interacting with people. Allow everything else to fall away. Question everything. See what happens.

Sometimes giving in to hunger is the path to finding what truly satisfies.

Next post: Jesus and the Merciful

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