Food for the Hungry
Ever noticed how a healthy body is a hungry body? Ever fed an infant who has been kept waiting for the warm milk she knows is the only relief for her gnawing pain? Ever sat down atop a mountain trail and pulled out the lunch that had been packed hours earlier for just this moment? A hungry body is a sure sign of a healthy body.
When Jesus calls the first of His followers, He goes to a lake. There are several boats moving about in different stages of fishing. Strong brown arms are heaving their nets overboard for the day’s catch when Jesus calls. He voices an unmistakable challenge.
“Give fishing the heave-ho. I have a job for you that will feed people’s real hunger” (Matt. 4:18-22).
It has always surprised me that they do it. They sail or row back to shore, drag their boats up onto the sand and enter into the most amazing three years of their lives, learning from Jesus how to minister to hungry people. It’s the beginning of the Body of Believers we now call the Church.
But three years later, we find them back in their boats (John 21:1-17). Jesus is gone, and they do what comes naturally to followers who have lost their leader: they revert to old habits. They go back to the mindless grunt work to make a buck to put food on the table. But Jesus is not so much gone as they imagine. Yes, He’s been crucified like thousands of other victims of the Roman occupation of Mediterranean lands, but there are rumours His tomb is empty.
Someone onboard the boat thinks they see Him standing on shore now. The early morning mist makes it hard to be sure.
“No success?” they hear Him call across the still water. “Try tossing the nets off the other side of your boat. That’s where the fish are.”
Moments later they are dragging their boats up onto shore, nets loaded with fish, joining Jesus at a warm fire. They add a few of their fish to the grill where he already has some sizzling. Sitting around the fire they eat the savory meal in wondering silence until Jesus sees they have had enough.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks, pausing to let them think it through. “Then feed my sheep.”
I’m sure they blink in surprise. Of course they love Him. They’ve followed Him for three years. They’ve left family and fortune for Him. They thought the crucifixion had ruined His plans to bring God into people’s lives. But now He is clearly referring back to the vision statement He had emphasized just before His death.
“Love each other,” He had commanded them. He had used analogies from fishing and farming to teach them, but now He uses a new analogy of shepherding. They are not to return to their old ways. There will be a growing body of believers in the risen Christ, and all will need what every body needs: food.
So who needs church? Anyone who is hungry for the real soul-food that Jesus provides needs church; anyone who wants to be obedient to Jesus to serve soul-food needs church; and anyone who is serious about following Jesus even when His presence in the church isn’t as tangible as at other times needs church.
Listen to Jesus saying, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught…and come have breakfast!”
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Wikiprem)