My Need for Spiritual Oxygen
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien
St. John 6: 35, And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
While growing up as a teenager, I used to recite this prayer without truly understanding the inner depth of these very words of Lord Jesus Christ – “Lord Jesus, you are the bread of life. You feed and support our spiritual life. Without you, we have no strength, no life, nothing. Please teach us to come to you to see that you are our Savior. Help us to not trust things in this world, but only trust you for life. We pray in your name. Amen.”
St. John 6: 35, And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” In St. John 6 Jesus says, “Do not labor for food that perishes. Labor for the food that endures, that does not have a shelf life. A joy that is deep, meaningful, lasting and eternal, it is food, it is bread that gives life.” And Jesus says, “That bread is Me. I am the bread of life.” Now in Greek, there are two words for “life.” There is bios (βίος) – where biology comes from it. It just means organisms, living life. It just means “existence of life.” And then there is the word Zoë (ζωή). Zoe means “life to its fullest.” Jesus says He is the bread of Zoë, the full life, meaningful life, abundant life, fulfilled life and eternal life. He is the One who gives life to the world. Consumerism says, “If you want to have life, you have to exert your energy, you have to deplete your resources.” You have to go broke in an attempt to find the life that consumerism promises you.
But Jesus says, “No, I am the bread of life that will be given to you. You do not have to deplete your resources. You do not have to exert your energy. You do not have to go broke to have this bread. In fact, I will exert My energy. I will deplete My resources. You do not have to go broke for this. This bread will be broken for you. You do not have to earn it, work for it, labor over it. You have to receive it. I will give it to you.” You see, consumerism says, “You have got to find life at cost to yourself.” Jesus says, “I will give you life at cost to Myself. I will be broken so that you can be made whole. I will be cast out so that you may be brought in. I will be condemned so that you can be forgiven. I will be rejected so that you can be accepted. I am the Son of God, but I will be treated like an enemy of God so that you, who are the enemies of God, can be treated like sons and daughters of God. I will do this at cost to Me, no cost to you.” Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” That is the generosity of this great God.
Recently, I came across an old article in People magazine about Jon Krakauer and his best-selling book, “Into Thin Air”. The book documented Jon’s climb to the summit of Mt. Everest on a fateful day in May of 1996. Eight people died as a blizzard moved in bringing 70 mile an hour winds and blinding snow at 29,000 feet. Krakauer was along as a journalist for Outsider magazine. He joined 34 other climbers in four different groups. An avid climber himself he knew the risks. He understood that once they were above 25,000 feet their cells would begin dying from oxygen starvation and their brains would not be thinking clearly. But his guide assured him that he did not need to think. All that he had to do was look at his watch. When it said 2 pm he was to turn around and go down. And yet by 3 pm there were still over two-dozen climbers trying to reach the summit. They had been delayed for hours as the Sherpa’s worked to fix the ropes. And the large number of climbers had created a traffic jam in the highest place on earth. Consequently, many of them stayed too long on the mountain and were caught by the storm. One of them was a climbing guide who stayed to get other climbers down off the summit. Finally as he began to descend he ran out of oxygen. Disoriented and confused, he became convinced that portable oxygen canisters left by other climbers were empty when in fact they were not. And he walked away from the very thing that would have saved his life. The lack of oxygen ravaged his capacity to recognize what was right in front of him. He was last seen heading back towards the summit. His body has never been found.
When I read the article I thought about how often I walk away from the very thing that brings me life. By that I do not mean “physical” oxygen, which our bodies require to survive. I mean “spiritual” oxygen! I mean the presence of Jesus Christ! Just as our lungs need oxygen to enable us to breathe, so our souls need Christ’s presence to find satisfaction. And yet often as I navigate the challenges and demands of life I allow myself to become cut off from the very one I need to depend on. Without Him, I become disoriented and confused about what really matters. And I turn away from that which satisfies my soul. I share that because we are in a series on the names of Jesus. Our goal is to gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. And through that understanding make a greater commitment to follow and serve Him. Last week we started with Immanuel. Today we look at Bread of Life.
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to hear a sermon on the hunger for more. I still remember it. He started by pointing to history and Howard Hughes in particular. How he made millions upon millions of dollars and still he wanted more. How he broke into the Hollywood scene and became a filmmaker and star. And still it was not enough. So he paid huge sums to indulge his every urge for pleasure. How he designed, built, and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. How he dealt political favors so skillfully that even U.S. presidents became his pawns. And yet, we know that Howard Hughes died emaciated, fingernails in grotesque corkscrews, rotting black teeth, tumors, and innumerable needle marks from his drug addiction. For Hughes more was never enough. The next deal, the next million dollars, the next thrill never satisfied!
Marilyn Monroe was the most admired woman of her day. Every man desired her. Every woman envied her. But Marilyn Monroe died alone. And she died at her own hand. For Marilyn more was never enough. If she could have had one more hit movie, if she had graced one more magazine cover, if she had had one more relationship with one more powerful man, it still would not have been enough. The things of this world are never enough to satisfy.
For us, there is only one source of satisfaction. And that is Jesus Christ. What bread is to the stomach, Jesus is to the soul! What oxygen is to lungs, Christ is to our spirit! Only he can sustain us. Only he is enough for us. Jesus said – “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. The question is – do we believe it? Do we turn to him with our longings? Do we trust in him to bring us joy? Or, like the crowds around Jesus do we look for a product to bring us happiness? The crowds said to Jesus – give us sign that we may believe it. Maybe manna bread from heaven like Moses gave our ancestors in the wilderness. They had it made! And Jesus says – first of all – it was God who gave you daily bread. And second of all – it was a sign of something greater that was to come! And that something greater is ME. I am the one that the manna from heaven foreshadowed! And unlike that manna from heaven, which lasted only for a day, I am forever. So stop looking for the product. Start looking at the person. Jesus is the true source of life! Second, we find His satisfaction by coming to Jesus and believing in Him.
I do not know about you, but I can always use a good reading of the Gospel of John. I can always benefit from a strengthening of my belief. Sometimes I get so busy – so caught up in my stuff that I neglect to plug into the spiritual oxygen that I need. And in confusion of oxygen deprivation I wander away from the source of life itself. Rather than coming to Christ I turn to other sources to find affirmation and security and fulfillment – which is about as healthy and life giving as wandering around Mt. Everest in a blizzard. The truth is I need the Bread of Life. I need His satisfaction. How about you?