Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 6:1-15) transports me to the kitchen of Pizza Hut on Hurstbourne Lane, Louisville, KY, circa 1985, where I was working my way through seminary as a pizza chef. I loved plopping the flour and oil and whatnot in the big mixer and watching it work with the dough. One recipe was for the thick pan pizzas, another for the thin crust, another for the short lived priazzo pies, and another batch for the bread sticks and cheese bread. I have always loved bread; good fresh bread is the comfort food of all comfort foods as far as I’m concerned. After letting the dough rise, it made its way into the various pans to be topped with the items of choice for each customer. We had a great community of chefs back in the kitchen; all of us enjoyed our work and made it even more enjoyable by engaging in deep theological dialogue and by singing television theme songs while we kneaded the dough and topped the pies. We even had a stump the chef contest, where customers would give us the name of an old tv show, and if none of the three chefs could burst out in that show’s theme song, the customer got a free order of bread sticks or cheese bread. I still can’t drive by a Pizza Hut without having the theme from Emergency or Mod Squad go through my mind. Not many customers got the free bread. I think we only blanked on a couple of shows; Flo and One Day at a Time were stumpers.
We don’t know if Jesus had any propensity or talent as a chef, or if he sang while he worked, but we do know that he had bread on his mind; it was often the subject of his own deep theological reflection. And we know that the early Christians were equally obsessed with bread; this particular story of the wonder bread is the only narrative to show up in all four gospels, and it shows up twice in two of the gospels. One of the dialogues we had back in the Pizza Hut kitchen centered around this anomaly. We were especially puzzled as to why Jesus chose to perform this particular sign, turning a few loaves into a feast for thousands of hungry people, when this same miracle had been one of his core temptations in the wilderness. There is no commentary among the gospel writers about the connection or disconnection between hunger in the wilderness and hunger on the seaside grassy knolls, between Jesus’ resistance to use his superpowers to feed the masses on the one hand, seeing it as a diabolical seduction to power, and his willingness to use those same superpowers on the other hand, even though the result was a misunderstanding of his identity among the people. And another mystery we pondered back in the kitchen was the inability of Jesus’ followers, the modern church, to provide wonder bread for the hungry masses we encounter in our world. We have far more than a few loaves and fishes to start with; we have more capacity for producing food than the world has ever known. And yet we have more starving people than the world has ever known. As of last count, there are 925 million starving people on the planet, panicking, in pandemonium, over lack of pan.
Neither Jesus nor the gospel writers gave us any easy answers to the mysteries and the questions this passage poses. When is using all our powers to satisfy the hunger of a starving world diabolical, and when is it not? And why are we not able to use our powers to feed the starving children today? I’m blanking. It is a stumper to me. The best I can understand is that, according to an earlier gospel writer, Jesus chose to be a companion to the hungry; he chose to accompany them through the world. Companion literally means with bread. Likewise, accompany literally means to share bread with. Jesus is a bread friend to the hungry; he is their companion; he accompanies them through the world, sometimes starving with them, sometimes suffering the diseases of malnutrition. Our question, then, is not so much how to be wonder bread providers, but how to be companions, bread friends, to the hungry Jesus’ of our world, how to accompany these 925 million Christs through the world. These 925 million panic stricken people represent the true emergent church, the emergent body of Christ, for me. I can hear the sirens of Emergency calling us to respond.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to respond, and share with friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.