We’re hungry. I am, and I think you are, too. It’s not a hunger that can be satisfied by a piece of the strawberry-rhubarb pie Sheryl made last week. We’re hungry because we’re dissatisfied with life and want something more. Polling by the Gallup organization consistently shows that in the United States we’re less satisfied than we were several years ago, and our satisfaction continues to decline as things around us seem to be getting worse instead of better.
The kind of hunger I’m talking about is the hunger described by the prophet Haggai 2,500 years ago, when nothing you do is enough, when you spend a lot of money and have little or nothing to show for it, when your plate is full and your heart is empty, when nothing you drink satisfies your thirst, when the finest clothes don’t keep you warm, when your greatest ambition comes to nothing and blows away (Hag. 1:6, 9).
People are hungry for food. Around the world, 821 million people, about one in every nine, don’t have enough food to live an active, healthy life. People of color are hungry for justice, for respect for their human dignity, for equal opportunity in life. People with disabilities are hungry for equal access to the unrestricted opportunities the rest of us have.
LGBTQs and transgendered are hungry for respectful, equitable inclusion in society. Women are hungry for equitable pay and freedom from culturally imposed roles that deny their authentic identities. All of us are hungry for what Jesus called abundant life, which Eugene Peterson paraphrased as “more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message). We hunger to be validated, to have our unique, God-given value recognized and respected. We are hungry to be loved. The world is hungry.
Ours is the hunger of the psalmist, a dissatisfaction with life and a yearning for something more. “You sweep us away like dreams that disappear,” he wrote, “or like grass that flourishes in the morning but by evening is dry and withered.” So he prayed, “Lord, take pity on us, satisfy us in the morning, fill us up with your unfailing love, so we may sing as long as we live” (Psalm 90).
The psalmist was praying for the return of an absent God, but we’re hungry not because God is absent; we’re hungry because the choices we make cause us to lose awareness of God’s abiding presence. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,” Isaiah asked, “and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Why do you squander yourself in things that don’t feed your heart and soul, that don’t satisfy your deep hunger? “Listen carefully to me,” Isaiah said, “and I will tell you where to get food that’s good for the soul” (Isa. 55:2).
Good food is all around us. God sets a bountiful table before us, and our cup overflows (Ps. 23). Manna from heaven falls on us while we sleep, like the morning dew, to satisfy our deepest hunger (Exod. 16:4-36). We in the church supposedly know about that hunger and have, presumably, learned how to satisfy it, so we also ought to know about the hunger felt by the crowds around us.
Once when Jesus was curing the sick in a deserted and resource-poor place, his disciples noticed the huge crowd was hungry and wanted to send them away to find what they needed elsewhere, and Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” They told him they had next to nothing to work with, and he showed them how the little they had was more than enough to feed everyone with plenty left over (Matt. 14:13-21).
We’re hungry for a life that’s already ours. The Lord of the feast of life said, “Dinner is served, come and eat,” and we make excuses. We’ve got things to worry about, other things to do first – property to maintain, a livelihood to earn, a family system to serve. We’ll come to the banquet later, in another life (Luke 14:15-24) – while God is waiting to give us all we need to eat now (2 Cor. 6:2). There’s more than enough for everyone, we just need to pull up a chair and start eating. We just need to open our eyes to see what’s right in front of us, as plain as the nose on your face.
There are two take-aways from the feeding of the multitudes. First, God provides everything we’re hungry for, manna and quail that sustain us in the wilderness (Exod. 16:4-36), a banquet of delicious food (Isa. 25:6), a feast fit for heaven (Luke 14:15-24). Abundant life is woven into every moment, every experience, every victory and failure, every gain and loss. Instead of praying for God’s kingdom to come, we need to look more for its presence and pray that we might see it.
The second take-away is, what we have is sufficient to satisfy the hunger of others, and it’s our responsibility to feed them. Sometimes we feed them through a food pantry or by working to correct unjust social and political systems that create and perpetuate hunger. Sometimes we feed them through evangelism, which someone defined as “just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Sometimes we feed them by getting to know them, by learning their names and their stories, by recognizing their dignity, and by being willing to get into what Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble, necessary trouble” to honor and protect that dignity.
“The world is hungry,” we tell God in our prayers. And Christ responds, “You give them something to eat.”