Have you gotten back to some sense of “normal”?
It’s feeling increasingly “post-pandemic” in many parts of North America. I, for one, know that I’m happy to be vaccinated and no longer wearing a mask everywhere I go. However, I don’t want to get too comfortable, at least not while so many of my fellow human beings still suffer.
I’m reminded daily that much of the world is not so free of the deadly virus that has cursed our planet for more than a year and a half. What’s more, the virus is not the only thing causing them to suffer! Indeed, the current lack of vaccines in so many countries has laid bare other long-standing global inequities. Millions of people in the world experience needs that we can hardly fathom. Let’s consider just the top three: food, water and shelter.
The United Nations calculates that 957 million people do not have enough to eat, and that more than 884 million do not have safe drinking water. Due to conflicts and environmental crises, 70 million are displaced from their homes. Across the globe 1.6 billion lack adequate housing. As the world’s population expands and global crises recur, meeting these needs will be a formidable challenge.
Thankfully, we have a God who knows what people need. And he loves those people! He especially revealed that love by sending his Son Jesus, who gave his life to save us. With that same love, Jesus also on occasion supplied the needs of those who were hungry and thirsty. Jesus knew, however, that people needed more than food and water. To do more than survive – to really live – they needed a restored relationship with their Creator God, and for that, they needed him.
John’s Gospel recounts for us an occasion when a crowd of people came looking for Jesus. Just the day before, they had been among the thousands who ate their fill of fish and bread at a massive lakeside picnic provided miraculously by Jesus.
“You’re not looking for me because you understood the miraculous signs,” Jesus told them. “You are looking for me because you ate as much of those loaves as you wanted. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:26-29). “The bread of God,” he told them, “is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life” (John 6:33,35).
What does the world need? Certainly food, water and shelter – but even more than that, the people of the world need Jesus, they need “the bread of life.”
I remember well conversations I had with new followers of Jesus among the Kankanaey people among whom we lived in the Philippines many years ago. They, too, understood from their Bibles that Jesus was “the bread of life.” Alarmingly, I came to realize what that actually meant to them! Bread for them was something unusual, something from outside of their own culture. It was an appreciated and somewhat costly treat for special occasions, but certainly not for everyday consumption.
That was not how Jesus wanted them to know him! “I think Jesus would explain things differently to you,” I told them. “For you he is the rice of life!” Their eyes gradually widened and shiny grins appeared across their faces. Some of them laughed out loud. “That is entirely different,” they said. “We don’t just enjoy the rice of life; we need it!”
They came to know Jesus truly as the rice of life. He wasn’t something a little extra, but someone essential, someone without whom life would be so much less, but with whom life would be so much more! Coming to know Jesus and welcoming him into their families and villages, their lives were forever changed. Jesus, the rice of life, didn’t just nurture them for the heavenly life to come, but also for the eternal life that begins here and now. My Kankanaey friends would tell you that having the love and truth of Jesus changed the way they see everything. He freed them of fears that had long held them in bondage. His grace and truth changed their capacity for engaging in the world and making decisions about their lives and their communities. It changed the ways they provided for themselves and helped one another. They would tell you, as I tell you now, that the answer to poverty and hunger and injustice in this world ultimately is not simply the provision of those needs, but a restored relationship with God through Jesus.
Far too many people in the world still await that relationship. Along with things like vaccines, food and water, they also need Jesus. And that’s why I don’t want to get too comfortable, at least now while so many of my fellow human beings still don’t know him.