Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
I recently returned from a mission trip in Tanzania along with 14 other people from my congregation. While we were there, we had several meals that included something called ugali. It is finely ground cornmeal that has been boiled and made into a porridge/paste-like substance.
With your serving, you take a small bit, roll it in your hand, push the center with your thumb to make a small scoop, and then use it as a “utensil” to scoop up a bite of some greens or stew or meat. Ugali is a traditional staple for sustenance in Tanzania.
When my husband and I lived in Taiwan, it was rice, or noodles. What we learned was that some parts of Asia, like Southern China, have rice as their traditional meal accompaniment; places like northern China, where wheat is more prominent, noodles become the main staple.
When I was growing up, it was potatoes. Our garden was full of all kinds of vegetables, but the biggest part of the garden was potatoes.
I planted, weeded, hilled, and dug buckets upon buckets of potatoes. It was never a question IF we were having potatoes for a meal; it was WHAT KIND of potatoes were we having —- fried, boiled, mashed, baked, potatoes with green beans and ham, and potatoes in all kinds of soup or stews.
Jesus, being in Israel, said, “I am the bread of life.”
Bread was essential for life in the Middle East. If Jesus had been in Tanzania, he would have said, “I am the ugali of life.” In Asia, “I am the rice of life; or the noodles of life.”
If Jesus had visited our house, he would have said, “I am the potatoes of life.”
If you go into any of these different cultures and ask the locals, they would say they do not feel full or completely satisfied unless they have their bread, or their ugali, or their rice or their noodles or their potatoes. (As an aside, I did not eat a potato during our two years in Taiwan —- it’s a wonder I survived!)
Each culture would feel that they need their bread, or ugali, or rice, or noodles, or potatoes to physically live. These are necessary to survive.
So what does Jesus mean when he says, “I am the Bread of Life?” Well, simply put, he means that we are not satisfied spiritually unless we know Jesus; we are not spiritually satisfied unless we have Jesus in our lives. Or to be more blunt, we cannot survive spiritually without Jesus.
On our own, we will try to fill ourselves with that which does not or cannot satisfy our deepest longings.
Everyone has a need to belong, to have a purpose, to be loved, but so many people are looking to the wrong places to satisfy that need —- it can be as extreme as looking to things like drugs or alcohol, but also may be things that do not at first seem harmful, like social media, or the accumulation of things, or self-serving and selfish ways of being.
Eventually we become slaves to those things.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
He is saying that ultimately, he can satisfy our deepest needs and longings. He can make us feel “full” and overflowing with blessing. To live physically, we need bread, or rice, or noodles, or ugali, or potatoes, or whatever your staple food is —- but to live spiritually — abundantly and eternally, we need Jesus, who indeed is the bread of life, and who is always ready to welcome you to his table.
Rev. June M. Fryman is Chairperson of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association and Pastor of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wilmington.