Wineskins Archive

November 25, 2013

What Are You Hungry For (Sept-Dec 2003)

Filed under: — @ 3:28 pm and

By Katie Hays

Jack, honey, it’s time for supper. Come on, baby.”

Jack barely glances at the table as I swoop him from

floor to high chair. “I don’t want dat,” he says with his nose wrinkled against the apparently foul odor of roasted chicken and fresh bread.

Over the past several months my husband and I have gone back and forth concerning which strategy is best suited for a stubborn, fickle, two-year-old appetite. Do we offer colorful chunks of healthful, naturally sweet finger foods throughout the day so that he can graze his way up the growth curve? Or insist that he’s big enough to consume the family diet of three squares a day? Or will tonight be like so many other nights in our recent memory:

“Jack, try some chicken. It’s good for you. It’s yummy. Mmmmm. See? Open your mouth. Come on, sweetie.”

“Nunh-unh. I don’t wike it.”

Several minutes later, when no chicken has been consumed… “Jack, what are you hungry for? Do you want some cheese?”

“Okay! Cheese!” Cheese is retrieved from the fridge, sliced, placed on his tray in six seconds flat. “Nope, I don’t want dat. I want some gwapes. Pweeze?” Grapes arrive immediately, just in time for Jack to push them around his tray for a while before requesting a new food for his amusement.

Before we know it we are bouncing up from the dinner table over and over again—just as the shampoo bottles say, “Lather, rinse, repeat”—hoping to hit on the perfect food to satisfy Jack’s hunger, his taste buds, and his desperate need to have control over some aspect of his life.

Now, friends, I know that your heads are swimming with parenting advice for me. But please don’t inundate me with helpful hints as soon as the last “amen” is sounded. I know that each and every one of your children eats a variety of healthful foods and enjoys trying new dishes. I suspect that, like so many things about raising kids, the real reason this happens over time is not so much that we are conscientious parents. Rather, our children are, indeed, growing every day. Sooner or later they grow out of their need to choose their own quirky foods from an amazingly narrow list. They grow out of their audacious rejection of their parents’ lovingly prepared menus. We all grew out of it, didn’t we?

Or did we?

For five weeks now, the lectionary has had us reading the sixth chapter of John in big chunks. Five weeks. The chapter is long, yeah, but not that long. But over these weeks, the message of John 6 has done its work on me. I can imagine myself in all the roles.

I am the hungry follower, skeptical of all I’ve heard about this Jesus but desperate enough to give him a try. I need to get closer, catch his eye, hear his voice. No matter how hard I try, there are always others who are nearer to him. I’m being crowded out, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I’ll stay for as long as it takes.

I am the frustrated Philip, freaking out because Jesus seems to think I should do something about the immense swell of hunger growing in this crowd of broken-down losers. Can he not see how many of them there are? How stretched thin I am already? I could dedicate my life to their problems and not make a dent.

I am the tentative Andrew, wanting to please the Lord but worried that he won’t remember how small we are, how few resources we have. I offer myself to his service but always with a disclaimer, a pessimistic apology on my lips before I even get started. I hope he’s not expecting too much.

I am the little boy, the bewildered child who naively offers his lunch simply because someone asked for it. I don’t have much, and what I have is not even really mine, since someone else procured and prepared and packed it for me. Maybe that makes it easier to share, knowing that it was a gift in the first place.

I am the satisfied customer, having eaten my fill and received all that I think I need from the Savior. An infusion of short-term help has turned my outlook to optimism. I love this religion, and it loves me. But in a few hours, chances are, I’ll be hungry again…

And now, thanks to Jack, I am Jesus, as well. I know what it feels like to offer food and have the one who’s hungriest for it turn it down. Loaves, they want. Bread for their bellies. They’ll take manna, if he’s got it, and all the better if he’ll do it again in the morning.

But Jesus, like the patient parent of a two-year-old, wants to give them the food they really need. “Don’t work for the food that perishes,” he says. “Work for the food that endures. I can give you that. Better yet, I can be that. I will be the food you need, now and forever. You need to eat, and I am your food. My flesh is your food. I want to give it to you; will you eat it? Come on, Jack—it’s good for you. It’s yummy. Mmmmm. Come on, sweetie; open your mouth.”

I am the appalled follower, one of the many who can’t believe their ears. He is my food? His flesh is the bread he wants to share with me? Their incredulous look of disgust and disbelief is on my face, and their question is on my lips: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

He never quite answers their question (Does Jesus ever really answer the question he’s been asked?) but the more he talks, the clearer it becomes. How can he give us his flesh to eat? “You’re going to have to eat my flesh and drink my blood to satisfy your never-ending hunger for life. It’s the only thing on the menu that’ll fill you up. The one who eats this meal will live forever.”

How can he give us his flesh to eat? Simple: he’ll have to die. He’ll die, so we can live. That’s what he’s offering, and he’s not getting up from the table to find us something more palatable.

Every time we sit together around this table, bless and pass this bread and wine, we say “yes” again to his horrible proposition. “I’ll die so that you can live,” he says. “Take it or leave it.”

There were many, Scripture says, who left that day when he wouldn’t back off. But this morning I am Peter, wincing over the meal we’re about to share as I make my weak confession of faith: “Lord, where else would we go?”

The table is set and the meal has been prepared. He has died so that we can live. What are you hungry for? Let’s eat.

Katie Hays

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