We commend him to you as the answer to your life’s deepest needs and questions.
Please be sure to have a look at the "Who is Jesus" presentation.
Empty Stomachs and Broken Lives:
By Ravi Zacharias : 2000 - Winter
Earth’s crammed with heaven,”
So said the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her lament takes us back to the Old Testament text, when the miraculous attended the call of Moses. She has in mind that spellbinding encounter when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and issued a call to him that he might lead his people out of slavery into a land flowing with milk and honey. That epiphany, as Browning points out, was not for Moses’ culinary delight. No more, I might add, than the thunder and lightning that enveloped Sinai when God spoke was so that the people could enjoy the glow on the landscape.
The dazzling, almost fearsome accompaniment of the elements in both these defining moments for His people pointed beyond the portents to the One who controlled those elements. God’s inexhaustible presence graced those occasions with brilliant and awesome splendor. How inconceivable was the loss for the people when the signs became the ends in themselves and the One signified became the means. The God who came near was lost amid their fascination with the light and the sound. The special effects became the attraction, and the central figure was obscured. The world of humanity has lived with such blindness and the mistake has been repeated in virtually every life.
And so it was that centuries after the event people were still locked into that blindness. The crowd in Jesus’ ministry followed Him and intruded upon His time alone. They came with a one-upmanship challenge to Him, to match the manna from heaven that Moses gave his people. They were not expecting an answer anywhere near as jarring as His: "This is my body...Take eat." "This is my blood...Drink all of it." Talking about bread was the easier part. What followed was staggering to them. By the time He had finished, many left Him, saying, "How can we accept such a hard saying?"
The truth, in this instance, was beyond belief because the mind was unwilling to ponder the assertion and, of course, the implication. Between their expectation and His provision was a wide chasm and they started to leave without seeking an explanation. Jesus then looked at His disciples and asked if they were going to leave Him, too. Was this all too much for them to comprehend?
After His death they would re-live those moments and remember what He had said. Millennia later, while the Church repeats those words in virtually every language, many have found the teaching too difficult and leave these words unstudied.
MISREADING THE SCRIPT
To a culture with such specific instruction on their spiritual need, to say nothing of their strict dietary laws, only ignorance would manufacture the notion that Jesus was prescribing the consumption of human flesh. Their charge that it is "a hard saying" may well be among the most unfortunate words ever affirmed, because it is just that response that leaves every human being bereft of life’s real meaning.
The longer I have pondered these words the more profoundly I am moved to realize why our hunger for something transcendent is so rooted in our very being, yes, even in our physical entity. That may be why we cannot shrug off this hunger, however hard we try.
It is, therefore, truly a shame that even some of the best minds have not paused long enough in their pursuit after truth and knowledge to really hear what Jesus was teaching here and understand what life-transforming power is contained in this truth. Unfortunately, rather than getting to the truth that Jesus is revealing they sit round instead, as philosophers or critics, and "eat blackberries."
What is the context we have? What preceded this demand by the crowd to bring down food from heaven?
Before his record of this conversation John had already described several miracles that Jesus had done. The first was the conversion of water into wine, where Jesus revealed His power over the elements. Then John narrated two episodes of healing, where Jesus showed His power over sickness. Third, he related Jesus’ multiplication of a young lad’s lunch to feed five thousand people with it His power over all provision. Following that, was the well-known story of Jesus walking on water-His power over Natural Law. An incredible history of response has followed these stories, ranging from the reverential to the ridiculous, from the artistic to the philosophical.
The people and the disciples who saw Jesus perform the miracle of feeding the multitude followed Him with deliberate intentions. They sought that very power that they assumed would make life more delectable-to ensure a full stomach and a limitless supply of bread. Who could fault them? (I heard recently of a man who had won an enormous sum in a lottery. "What is the biggest difference in your life," asked an interviewer. "I eat out more often," came the half-humorous, half-disappointing answer.)
Food and power blinded the mind to the need for nourishment and strength for the soul. The generosity of God, incidental to the miracles, became a stumbling block because the witnesses lost sight of the purpose, longing only for the outward manifestations. They wanted to know how a little boy’s lunch could feed several thousand people and there still be baskets full of crumbs left over. How could a paralytic of nearly four decades suddenly walk again? Is this power transferable? Can it be bought?
The possibility of freedom from hunger and disease would draw a following anywhere, any day. And that precisely was the context through which Jesus was trying to lift their sights to higher causes. They were no different from us.
It is crucial to note that Jesus’ response to their demand is in stark contrast to the self- aggrandizement that would-be-messiahs covet. Rather than bask in the accolades of a feigning crowd and soak in their praise, or enlarge His following, Jesus slipped away from their clamoring midst. In fact, He wept over their self-deception. He knew their motives and the misconceptions with which they lived. And when they somehow tracked Him down they burst upon Him with a question, "Our fathers ate manna in the desert...Why don’t you give us the same?"
This is where He began His answer that was to lead them farther than they were willing to go. But He first tried to lead them away from their error before He could bring them to His truth. This very challenge to feed the hungry is addressed in the most critical juncture as Jesus begins His ministry.
IGNORING THE AUTHOR
Anyone who has been in countries where hunger is publicly exposed as a means for eliciting pity and a handout can easily understand the emotional tug of such a temptation. This was not a soft temptation. The tempter knew, precisely, the force of his taunt. How much more relevant could God be than to be a provider of food for life? What good is religion if it cannot feed the hungry? Satan was perilously close to the truth but engulfed in a lie of devastating proportions.
Ask yourself! What kind of a following would result if the sole reason for the affection towards the leader is that he provides his followers with bread? Both motives would be wrong-for the provider and the receiver. These are the terms of reward and punishment that are mercenarily tainted and have diminishing returns. Their appeal is soon lost when offered as enticements or when withheld to engender fears.
The temptation Satan posed to Jesus stalked Him throughout His ministry, even as the crowd was increasing with their demand for a limitless supply of bread. Politics of power through abundance is not a new invention. Jesus took pains to show them that their preoccupation with bread as the primary purpose and expression of enjoyment of life had seriously displaced both what bread was meant to do and what life was meant to be. Their passions were understandable but their expectations were based upon an illusion.
In our highly competitive world this truth does not sink in with any greater ease than it did in ancient Palestine. "You are what you eat," we hear in various ways. Jesus would have said, "You are more than what you eat." With all our ingesting and consumption, our hungers are still many. Our fulfillments are few. Must we not think about that? Ought not that itself to be an indicator that our hungers are displaced?
Thornton Wilder, in his play Our Town, tells the story of life as it is lived out in the mundane and amid the relationships of daily living. The details are specific but the lesson is like a mirror held out to all of us. We see the daily routine in all its monotony-the milk arrives, breakfast is eaten, working people go to their jobs, housewives tidy their homes, handymen work in the yards-each day reflecting the previous one. In the story the turning point came when Emily Gibbs died giving birth to her baby and the routine was suddenly broken.
But from the realm of the dead, Emily is given a chance to return to earth for a day of her choice as it was actually lived out, so she could enjoy it once again, this time through nostalgic eyes. She watches the harried activity and preparation that was going on in celebration of her twelfth birthday. As expected, on an occasion such as that the household is preoccupied with presents and food and chatter. The party buzzes with activity.
But from the sidelines Emily notices the complete loss of any personal attention that would make her day and life meaningful. The attention of everyone is on the occasion, not on the person and the relationships. She is appalled at such neglect. From the unseen, she pleads, "Just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another." But her plaintive cry is unheeded. They could not hear her because they are trapped by the superficial. The party must go on and the moments dissipate into activity. As she bids her final farewell, she cries, "Oh, Earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!"
Then she turns to the stage manager, who has taken an active part in the play, and asks, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it-every, every moment?"
The answer comes, "No. The saints and poets, maybe-they do some."
"Do any realize life while they live it?" The only way one can realize life while one lives it is if he or she realizes that life is not a matter of nutrition alone but of the greater hunger that is beyond words and food. Life cannot be satisfied when it is lived out as a consuming entity. Only when it is filled by that which satisfies a hunger that is both physical and spiritual in a mutuality that sustains without violation, a satisfaction that is authentic and continuous, only then can life be truly fulfilling. For the millions who live out their lives day to day with the pursuit of bread dominating their dreams and actions life, as it was meant to be, passes them by and their unsatisfied hungers continue to scream out at them.
“The saints and poets, maybe—they do some,”—because they slow down and think, and look beyond the activities to their longings and somehow broach the possibility of meaning that transcends their actions.
Jesus has a similarly striking question for His audience, as He does for all of us. Does any one of us live every minute of life, knowing its essential worth? How is it possible that we spend all of our energies pursuing the work-a-day world and actually conclude that if our stomachs are full life’s sustenance will be met? We seek bread not just to consume it, I might add, but to be in a position of power, envied by others for the abundance we have acquired. In short, if we are to truly understand who we are we must understand what bread can and cannot do.
To realize the full impact of Jesus’ patience with them we must remember that this was not the first time the topic of food and hunger had surfaced in a conversation between Jesus and His followers. He had previously tried to bring this point home so as to thwart this “religion for bread” pursuit.
In the middle of all those miracles was actually an event of far greater import. It was a conversation with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42). In that dialogue Jesus had tried to open up the understanding of their minds towards what was really the form and substance of life. In fact, He had a brilliant lead-in, had they but listened. Evidently the disciples missed His point.
They had their lunch-bags in their hands and so were completely preoccupied. He was talking to an immoral, socially ostracized and desperate woman whose life had been used and abused till she had no sense of self-worth left. They chided Him for talking to this outcast. “You must be hungry,” they said. “Is it not time to eat?”
“I have food to eat that you know nothing about. My food is to do the will of my Father.”
There is the first remarkable pointer. If I am to be fulfilled I must pursue a will that is greater than mine—one that has the will of God as its focus, not the appetite of the flesh.
He went on to say: “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:32-35)
Here is our next clue. Jesus pointed to a hunger that was universal and went
beyond bread and water.
Every sentence of His response had food in it, but of a different kind. There was hunger everywhere, He said, and food enough for all. But it was not wheat or water. It was Christ Himself, the bread of life and the spring of living water. The Samaritan woman grasped what He said with a fervor that came from her desperation.
The transaction was fascinating. She had come with a bucket. He sent her back with a spring of living water.
She had come as a reject. He sent her back being accepted by God Himself.
She came wounded. He sent her back whole.
She came laden with questions. He sent her back as a source for answers.
She came living a life of quiet desperation. She ran back overflowing with hope.
The disciples missed the obvious imperative.
Interestingly enough, shortly after this conversation with the Samaritan woman He performed the miracle of feeding the thousands. So bread and food were not absent from His mind. He was moving them from the easier to the more difficult, from the temporal to the eternal, from the inward look to outward reverence. But they were stuck on their desire for more food. They did not get it the first time round.
RAISING THE CURTAIN.
We all get hungry and food is a delight to be enjoyed. But life, as we well know, is filled with greater hungers than an empty stomach. If we were to enumerate them we might be surprised at how many legitimate hungers there are: the hunger for truth, the hunger for love, the hunger for knowledge, the hunger to belong, the hunger to express, the hunger for justice, the hunger of the imagination, the hunger of the mind, the hunger for significance. We could name more. Vast psychological theories have emerged in recognition of these hungers, or needs.
Here is the point. Some of our individual pursuits may meet some of these hungers. Education may bring knowledge. Romance may bring a sense of belonging. Accomplishments may bring significance. The message of Jesus affirms that no one thing will meet all of these hungers. And furthermore, none can help us know whether the way we fulfill them is legitimate or illegitimate, until we feed on the bread of life that Jesus offers. That nourishment defines the legitimacy of all else.
Not only do we remain unfulfilled when we pursue these hungers, but in their very pursuit comes a disorientation that misrepresents and misunderstands where the real satisfaction comes from.
In his book Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer relates the hazards that plagued the climbers in the expeditions to Mount Everest during the spring of 1996. That year the attempt to reach the summit resulted in a great loss of lives. Some circumstances were out of their control but mistakes cost them dearly. And some of those deadly mistakes were made while within reach of solutions.
In one instance, because of the very high altitude one of the leaders was in desperate need of oxygen. Though he was surrounded by a cache of oxygen canisters, he kept radioing that he desperately needed oxygen but that the canisters were empty. Those who had passed by the canisters on their return from the summit knew that they were not empty. Even as they pled with him on the radio to make use of them, it was to no avail. He insisted that the canisters were empty.
The problem was that the lack of the very thing he needed so disoriented his mind that though he was surrounded by a restoring supply he continued to complain of its absence. Lack of oxygen diminished his capacity to think clearly. The very thing he held in his hand was absent in his brain and ravaged his capacity to recognize what he had is his hand.
What oxygen is to the body, the bread of life is to the soul. Without that bread all other hungers will be improperly perceived. In fact, in like manner, the absence of that bread over a prolonged period makes the bread itself seem worthless. Life is meant to be lived in fulfillment of the one need that defines all other means of fulfillment and the one love that defines all other loves.
In His answer, Jesus moved very cautiously from the physically felt to the existentially yearned. He moved them from the exterior of substance to the substance of their inner being—from the wrapping to the gift. Here, He reminded them, the physical and the spiritual meet. Here the now and the forever converge. Here life and death co-mingle. Implicit in these verses is the climactic direction towards which Jesus was headed and to which He was to come back moments before His death.
To the middle-eastern mind-set, bread is not just a source of nourishment. It is the bearer of so much more. Food is the means of fellowship. Jesus Himself, in Revelation 3:20, says that He stands at the door and knocks; if anyone opens that door, He will come in and eat with him. What a beautiful expression that is of friendship. Food is the means of celebration. The return of the prodigal was celebrated by the killing of the fatted calf that signaled that the feast had begun. Food is also a medium of pleasure. Solomon’s palace thrived on such offerings. To this day, food is a big thing in that culture, as it is in this culture. It is the means to nourishment, friendship, celebration and pleasure.
But, with all our nurture and friendships, our celebrations and pleasures, there come those cross-road moments in our lives when no food can sustain life, no friendship can overcome certain eventualities, no celebration can be endless and no pleasure perfect. The body ages and weakens and it is not within the capacity of food to ultimately restore the strength or lost youth. It moves inexorably towards a diminishing return. In short, there are two built-in limitations with food. The first is obvious. The body weakens and someday dies.
That break comes for all of us, at different times and in different ways. Food with its means of nourishment, friendship with its bonds, celebration with its occasions and pleasure with its delights, for each life and each relationship is ended in a matter of a moment.
It is to this vulnerability of living that Jesus points His finger. There is an old adage that says that you can give a beggar food or better still, you can teach him how to fish. Jesus would add that you can teach a person how to fish, but that the most successful fisherman has hungers fish will not satisfy.
GOING BACK STAGE.
At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent. As the exposition
is studied something very significant emerges. There comes a bifurcation, or
a distinction, between the person and the teaching.
Whatever we may make of their claims, one reality is inescapable. They are
teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of
these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to
whom you turn. It is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers
you, it is his “Noble Truths” that instruct you. It is not Mohammed
who transforms you, it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you.
By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or point or expound on His message.
In Him is not just an offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. That is why, for a Christian it is not just a way of feeding and living. Following Christ begins with a way of relating and being.
From a simple base of four offences that cause a loss of one’s discipleship status is built an incredible edifice of ways to restoration. Those who follow Buddha’s teachings are given thirty rules on how to ward off those pitfalls. But before one even deals with those, there are ninety-two rules that apply to just one of the offences. There are seventy-five rules for those entering the order. There are rules of discipline to be applied—two hundred and twenty-seven for men, three hundred and eleven for women. Readers of Buddhism know that Buddha had to be persuaded before women were even permitted into the disciple’s status. After much pleading and cajoling by his disciples, he finally acceded to the request but laid down extra rules for them.
Whatever one may make of all of this, we must be clear that in a non-theistic system, which Buddhism is, ethics become central and the rules are added ad infinitum. Buddha and his followers are the originators of these rules.
The most common prayer for forgiveness in Buddhism, from the Buddhist Common Prayer, reflects this numerical maze:
I beg leave! I beg leave, I beg leave…May I be freed at all times from the four states of Woe, the Three Scourges, the Eight Wrong Circumstances, the Five Enemies, the Four Deficiencies, the Five Misfortunes, and quickly attain the Path, the Fruition, and the Noble Law of Nirvana, Lord.
To truly understand this complicated theory one would almost need a graduate level understanding in philosophy and psychology.
By contrast, in a very simple way Jesus drew the real need of His audience to that hunger which was spiritual in nature, a hunger that is shared by every human, so that we are not human livings or human doings but human beings. We are not in need merely of a superior ethic, we are in need of a transformed will that seeks to do the will of God.
Teaching, at best, beckons us to morality, but is not in itself efficacious. Teaching is like a mirror. It can show you if your face is dirty but the mirror will not wash your face.
Jesus also taught and held up a mirror, but by His person He transforms our will to seek His. It is our being that Jesus wants to feed. Once we grasp how He provided this shaping of our being we realize how tragic humanity’s loss is in its singular pursuit of bread.
Christ warns that there are depths to our hungers that the physical does not plumb. There are heights to existential aspirations that our activities cannot attain. There are breadths of need that the natural cannot span.
In summary, He reminds us that bread cannot sustain interminably. He is the bread of life that eternally sustains. And He does it as no other claimant to divine or prophetic status ever did.
EXPLAINING THE PLOT
Our greatest hunger, as Jesus described it, is for a consummate relationship that combines awe, love, a transformed will, celebration and commitment. In other words, that hunger is for worship. But worship is not accomplished only by a transaction uttered in a prayer or a wish. Worship is a posture of life that takes as its primary purpose the understanding of what it really means to love and reverence God. This is where the broken piece of bread provided the means of expression and transaction.
On my first visit to the Kingdom of Jordan, my family and I were hosted to a very special meal on the eve of our departure. They called it Mensef. The guests stood around a large platter of rice, beautifully garnished with succulent delicacies, flavored with aromatic spices and a gravy that gave it a mouth-watering taste. But then came the fun part. We all rolled up our sleeves and together enjoyed the meal from that tray, eating it with our bare hands.
That was Middle-Eastern food with all of its purposes and at its best. For one of Indian descent, which is my birthright, it was like coming home and more. There is a symbolism to that way of eating. The enjoyment of a delightful combination of food, the fellowship one with the other, the touch of the hand into the same platter—signifying trust and closeness, the celebration of life and its purpose, the memories of days we had spent together. Every detail came together to say, “Welcome to our home and become one of us.” We were greeted with a kiss and bade goodbye with a kiss. Our hands fed from the same platter. We had gathered as friends and left with an intimate trust of a deeper friendship.
That, may I add, is only an inkling of what Jesus was offering to His followers. As we live out our lives, an emptiness that is unexplainable without God is part of every one of us. Logic tells us that. If I am hungry, there must be such a thing as food. If I am thirsty, there must be such a thing as water. If I am empty in my spirit, only God is big enough to fill it. Even atheistic religions like Buddhism or pantheistic religions like Hinduism, though they deny a personal, absolute God, still smuggle in ways of worship where a personal being is addressed, only because the emptiness within drives the self to a transcendent personal other.
This emptiness has deep ramifications, even as it sometimes propels us in the direction of some perpetual ecstasy. We search for thrills here and there and when each thrill is consummated our emptiness intensifies. The reason is that we are more than just empty. We are, in fact, broken. We have broken away from God, we are broken in relation to our fellow human beings. And the most elusive reality is that we are broken even from ourselves. We do not connect our own proclivities. Life is a story of brokenness.
This is at the core of the Gospel.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of this world…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:51 & 53)
Upon hearing this the disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it.”
But Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe."(John 6:61-64)
If this were all Jesus had said on the subject, I have no doubt it would have been the supreme puzzle of His teaching. The directness, the bluntness of the way it translates into our language is bound to leave the reader befuddled. But like many of Jesus’ discourses, He gave them piecemeal until the final moment. Then the disciples harked back to the first instance when He hinted at the truth. This is clearly the hint. The fulfillment was to follow days before His death, and be finally understood only after His death.
Let us track that event which explained this puzzle.
Second, if He meant His actual flesh and blood it would be tantamount to saying that only a small number could have shared in that life He offered. It would be restricted to the finite number of pieces a human body could be broken into.
Third, it would be chronologically restrictive. That body would soon decay and the blood would no longer bear life. Only those at His physical death would have been able to share in that consumption.
Fourth, He had already said that He would raise up that body after it was killed, so that the body itself could not be referred to without making the whole process a masquerade.
Fifth, He commanded the Church to repeat what He was doing across history as a throwback to that moment. That would be impossible with His literal body.
Sixth, He Himself said that His words were spirit and not flesh.
And finally, when the actual moment of His sacrifice came as He had predicted it would, He explained what it meant.
He sat down for the Passover meal with His disciples. The food that sustained, the fellowship this provided, the celebration it encompassed and the pleasure of God’s provision were enjoyed. Only now, there was a heaviness in their hearts. For that heaviness, manna alone would not help. This was a time to face life’s supreme worth. An offering of such worth was in the making. The sacrificial Lamb of God was blessing the meal even as He was to be sacrificed. He took the bread, gave thanks and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” They tasted, touched, smelt, knew and felt the dimensions of their salvation. He was physically present as He offered the elements.
Then He went on to say: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
There you have it. This broken piece of bread represented what was about to happen. He was going to be physically and emotionally battered in a way that would draw the attention of friend and foe alike. In that actual brokenness, a mending would ensue. We ourselves would have the way provided to reconnect with God, with our fellow human beings and with ourselves. We would have access to a new relationship, which is part of a larger body, individually and corporately because of His body broken for us. We could be part of an unbreakable fellowship because He would come and dwell within us. We could take part in an eternal celebration when we would be in the presence of God forever. We could know pleasure at His right hand because worship would be its climactic expression. These symbols of His broken body for ours, His binding for our dismemberment—these are given a tangible expression in the elements when we gather together for worship.
Although by remembering Jesus’ past teaching the disciples had a partial understanding of what was happening that night, they were still unclear about all that it meant. That clarity was attained in a significant moment after the resurrection. The day Christ died had been a day they could not understand or appreciate. They saw His body broken and there was a somberness to their lives. They had questions galore.
After it all happened, some of the disciples were on a journey and as they walked on the road toward the town of Emmaus, a stranger came alongside them. Much had happened during those few days and they were in deep discussion, trying to understand it all. The stranger, listening in, asked why they were so despondent. They told him of the tragic happenings in the death of Jesus three days previous and added, “Are you the only one in Israel who does not know what has happened?”
The truth is that He was the only one in Israel who did know what had happened. But they did not yet know who He was. He began to expound all of history and how it tied into that day and its events. They were wonder-struck at the way everything connected. They still did not know who He was and pleaded with him to stay and have the evening meal with them.
As they sat down to eat the defining moment came. He broke some bread. And
the Bible says that as He did that, their eyes were suddenly opened and they
knew it was Jesus Himself. There has not been a simpler act in history with
more profound trans-historical memory attached.
Indeed, to this very day, the Christian sits down with his or her fellow believers and shares in the broken bread and the cup. In that simple transaction, all of history finds its meaning in the person of Christ. In that act, we remember the Jesus who came, who laid down His life for us, the Jesus who will return. In that act every barrier is broken—the barrier of sin between us and God, the barrier between body and soul before the physical and the spiritual connect, the barrier between life and death, where the hammer of time beats upon the anvil of eternity and borrows eternal significance. The barrier of race and prejudice, for we all stand before Him at the same meal. It is the Mensef of God. Can there be a greater reason to celebrate? Now life can be realized with every moment that it is lived.
In his book ” Life after God” Douglas Coupland tells a fascinating story. He was out on a walk in a beautiful park when he came upon a group of blind women, picnicking for the day. When they heard him walking by they asked him if he would take a picture of them. He gladly consented and they all snuggled close to get into the picture. But after he left, he pondered, “What on earth would a group of people devoid of sight want a picture for?”
May I suggest that in the way God has fashioned us, He enables us to enjoy the capacity of someone else so that we might share in a benefit even without the ability to experience it. The pictures were probably shown to those with sight, who could add to the insight of these women who, in their memories, could relive the occasion, transcending the way they had lived it the first time.
In this unique moment in history, in offering a broken piece of bread God brings both sight and insight to the participant through the life of the One whose body was broken, and who can therefore lift him or her into a sacred memory. And in that simple act He refashions him into a new wholeness. That broken bread bridges every humanly unbridgeable chasm in millions of lives. We see in a way nothing else could have imparted—through His eyes, with His presence.
TRANSLATING INTO LIFE/ A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
Listen to the words of Deepak Chopra, again on this purpose of life. He makes this assertion in the early part of his book.
In reality, we are divinity in disguise, and the gods and goddesses in embryo that are contained within us seek to be fully materialized. True success is therefore the experience of the miraculous. It is the unfolding of the divinity within us.
Half way through his book, he says again, and this statement forms the basis of his philosophy, “We must find out for ourselves that inside us is a god or goddess in embryo that wants to be born so that we can express our divinity.”
I cannot resist asking who is the we? Who is the god? Who is the self? Are these different entities with which we are cohabiting? Is there a god who needs me (which me?) to bring him (which him if it is actually me?) to birth so that my deluded self will cease to be deluded and will emerge divine as the real Self? How did god end up in embryonic form while I became full grown, so that I will give him the privilege of birth and lose my humanity to find my divinity? At the risk of being frivolous, this is the ultimate version of “Who’s on first.”
However much one may respect the intent of such teaching we deceive ourselves in believing that it is philosophically coherent. It is not. That is why some of the most respected Hindu philosophers and thinkers have brandished it one of the most contradictory systems of life’s purpose ever espoused.
Towards the end of his book, Chopra asks us to make a commitment to the beliefs he has espoused in these words:
Today I will lovingly nurture the god or goddess in embryo that lies deep within my soul. I will pay attention to the spirit within me that animates both my body and my mind. I will awaken myself to this deep stillness within my heart. I will carry the consciousness of timeless, eternal Being in the midst of time-bound experience.
This is the heart of philosophical Hinduism—self deification.
How can it be that we are the outworking of the quantum world but at the same time, we are gods? Is this what a few thousand years of human history has taught us? We are lonely and confused gods who have lost our way?
This is the reason the “you” disappears in Hinduism and the meditative process is enjoined, so that we can as individuals merge with the one impersonal absolute—the capital “I”, because there is no significant other.
Union with the impersonal absolute defies language, reason and existential realities. It does not satisfy the longing for communion.
While Hinduism goes to one extreme—the deification of the self—Islam is at the other extreme. In Islam the distance between God and humanity is so vast that the “I” never gets close to the “Him” in God. And because this distance between the two is impossible to cross, worship takes on an incredible clutter of activity, designed to bring the worshipper close. Repetition and submission take the place of the warmth of a relationship that is based on a broken Savior who came to call us to worship Him in the simplicity and sacredness of life. One only need glimpse a Muslim at worship to see the difference. With all that he observes and all the rules he keeps, there is never a certainty of heaven for the common person in Islam. It is all in the “will of God,” they say. One’s destiny is left at the mercy of an unknown will.
The Christian message.
In the Christian message the God who is distinct and distant came close so that we who are weak may be made strong and may be drawn close in communion with God Himself, even as our identity is retained as we are. That simple act of communion encapsulated life’s purpose. The individual retains his individuality while dwelling in community. The physical retains its physicality but is transcended by the spiritual. The elements retain their distinctness but become bearers of truth that point beyond themselves to a spiritual fellowship that our spirits long for.
Just as the consummate act of love between man and wife concretely expresses all that the moral and spiritual relationship embraces, so the simple act of taking the broken bread and the cup encompasses the actual reality of the intermeshing of God’s presence in the life of the individual. It is an act of worship that represents a life full of meaning.
There is more than just the personal. In Communion time is transcended by eternity. Jesus’ death in the past is remembered in the present and points to the future when we will break bread with Him in eternity. Every sense is brought into play in Communion—touch, taste, scent, hearing, seeing. Even with a time warp, the inner intuition or imagination is called upon to enter into an experience that can be shared with God because of the broken body of His Son. The breaking of bread—a simple act, with profound ramifications.
This brings us to a most staggering conclusion on what worship means. Food and health may be a relevant branch to which we hold. But the trunk that is rooted in the sacred call of God to worship is based on a reversal of that relevance. It is not that God needs to be relevant to us. It is the very counter-perspective of God which beckons us to become relevant to Him. What do I mean?
In his book The Integrity of Worship Paul Waitman Hoon has a chapter called “The Irrelevance of Worship.” His whole point is summarized in one paragraph in which he reminds us that the experience of worship can sometimes call us to look beyond our need to what God is calling us toward.
How often have we craved light on our life in the world, only to be summoned to ponder our destiny in eternity. How often have we been preoccupied with the church local, and instead found our vision turned to the Church triumphant and universal. And how often have we asked that worship bless our souls with peace, only to hear the lesson for the day calling us to a holy warfare. How often have we desired strength to overcome the world, only to learn that we are to be stoned and sawn asunder in the world. How often have we sought comfort to our sorrows, and instead found the sorrows of the world added to our own. Such reversals may be strange to men. But only such contradiction answers to realities both relevant and irrelevant that are at the heart of the Church’s worship.
This was the reversal the disciples did not expect. They came to Jesus asking
for the abundance of bread so they could be full and found out that there was
bread of a different kind broken for them because they had a deeper emptiness
than they had imagined. They had bought their lunch at a nearby restaurant.
But they were being invited to a different table. With their purchase, they
would soon be hungry again.
© 2003 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. All Rights Reserved.