Bread and Water
Which bread do we seek?
The crowds that followed Jesus around (and that sometimes we believe may have been rather annoying) were, I expect, like most crowds––a mixed lot. Among them were the disciples, the men and women who had been his friends probably from early on in Jesus’ life, perhaps even childhood friends with whom he played along the shoreline of Lake Galilee.
Then there were the genuine seekers, those who “dared but dared not” believe he was indeed the long expected One, the Messiah. This group would have included simple, faithful people from the synagogues as well as the highly learned, the scribes and Pharisees. Perhaps we might spot someone like Nicodemus (John 3:1) lurking at the back, straining to hear what Jesus was saying.
However, then there were also the spies and the enemies who longed to hear him say something incriminating so they would have a reason to get him arrested as a blasphemer or a rebel to Roman authority.
These were dangerous and heady times in the life of Jesus. People were not sure what to make of him. They had tried to declare him king by force (John 6:15), just after the feeding of the 5,000.
The clear reference of the feeding of the 5,000 is the feeding of the Exodus people with manna (Exodus 16:13-36). What does this mean? Well, first, it indicated a moment of enormous change in the lives of the people of Israel; they were literally on the move.
In Jesus they were being recalled to their founding experiences as a people completely dependent on God. The manna was not just for a night but continued night after night until they reached the borders of Canaan. Jesus said of himself that he is this bread (John 6:35). He intends to satisfy a deeper need than just a few thousand hungry people. The “manna” that he is, come down from heaven, is life itself— and eternal life to boot.
When we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11, NRSV). Of course, this does include the nourishment of the body. We cannot do too much in this world if we are weak with starvation. However, the Greek word we translate as “daily” indicates the eternal heavenly banquet in heaven. That is, it is a spiritual manna we ask for that will sustain us in Christ.
Are we the heavenly water?
While the needs of the body are only temporary (though pretty intense at times), for the needs of the spirit one can set no limit and no term. Our spiritual life is without end. It is up to us with whom we spend eternity.
When talking about the manna that came down from heaven for the sustenance of the Exodus people, bread is one of the great basics of life. However, when we think about water, we have an even more basic need. We can go without food for quite a long time but to go without enough water soon brings the tell-tale signs of dehydration and potential heat exhaustion. I suppose it is because our bodies are mainly water, so it makes sense that we are in trouble if we do not take in enough.
I suppose it is hardly surprising, given that the books of the Bible come from an area of the world characterized by aridity and heat, that water would be valued highly. Indeed, those living in the drier parts of the United States would probably agree!
The image of water in its many forms— the sea, rivers, streams, and springs—is therefore a frequent theme in the books of the Bible. Principally and practically, water means life. In the words of the prophets, it also means the life, wisdom, and power of God. So, to be thirsty for this water is not just a desire to fill a need but the longing to enter more deeply into a relationship with the living God.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that those who drink ordinary water thirst again, but the water he gives “will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life” (John 4:14). “To the thirsty,” God promises, “I will freely give water from the life-giving spring” (Revelation 21:6).
So from being “thirsty” people we can become, in Christ, those who satisfy the thirst for God in others. We are surrounded by those who hunger and thirst for hope, for comfort, and for a word of truth. Shall we, then, who have received so much, be stingy with something we have in abundance? I hope not!
Christ who has fed me on the bread and water of heaven, let grace overflow in my life. Amen.
Simon Iredale was born in the United Kingdom but spent his childhood in Australia. He was ordained in the Church of England and served as a parish priest, a hospital and prison chaplain, and a senior chaplain for the Royal Air Force and is now happily retired. He lives in the British Midlands with his wife, a black cat, and three eccentric chickens.