A free feed

My friends know how my eyes light up with food. Especially an opportunistic nibble at work. Over the last few months, I’ve gradually found out which kitchenettes have cookie jars, which fridges have a steady supply of communal milk, and which tearooms provide Milo in addition to the standard teabags. Working at a different hospital this year, one of the things that remains unchanged is the weekly affair of “free” pizza for junior doctors (free as in funded by our weekly contributions to the resident’s society). During pizza days, you have the biggest crowd of doctors you would find anywhere in the hospital, packed into a small room, looking hungrily and expectantly at the door. When the next person opening the door isn’t the person with the goods, there’s a chorus of disappointed groans. It’s sort of comical. One might wonder why we get so excited about this low quality, high fat fast food that we could easily purchase ourselves.

But it’s not only junior doctors and medical students who are attracted to free food. I thought this was amusing:

“…you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” – John 6:26-27

After Jesus fed a crowd of at least five thousand from the scant provisions of five loaves and two fish, everyone was impressed. They said, “surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (6:14). They wanted to make Jesus king by force, but he slipped away. The crowd, eager to find him, searched everywhere. They even followed him on their boats. But Jesus saw straight into their hearts, and said the above, knowing that they did not follow him for the spiritual bread of life he offered, but rather, because of the physical bread he had just given them. Later, he speaks about spiritual matters – about himself being one who was from God, about him being the bread of life, of us partaking in his flesh and blood in order to receive eternal life. The fickle crowd was now unhappy. They started grumbling and did not believe Jesus (6:41-43, 52, 60-61) despite having been impressed with the miraculous sign they had recently witnessed.

“From this time many of his disiples turned back and no longer followed him.” – John 6:66

Whilst we recognise the need for physical food, the worth of spiritual sustenance is indeed hard for us to grasp. Even for us today who have the advantage of the rest of the New Testament to better comprehend the symbolisms Jesus was using at the time. Sadly the crowd, so enthusiastic after the free feed, quickly deserted Jesus as they did not understand, and were even offended by his teachings. They stopped at the sign of physical bread and rejected what it was pointing towards – that is, the truth of Jesus being the promised Messaiah, through whom they would have eternal life.

“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?” – Matthew 16:11

This wasn’t the only instance where his followers were fixated on physical bread. In Matthew 6:5-12 when Jesus warns his disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees”, they misunderstood this as a rebuke for forgetting to bring bread. Earlier in John chapter 4, the woman at the well was also more interested in a constant supply of drinking water than the spiritual significance of the living water Jesus spoke of. However, in her case she recognised her spiritual thirst and even left her water jar to tell everyone about Jesus!

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:45-46

Not to say that food and water are unimportant. But what little patience we have for what is unseen. What little value we place on spiritual blessings and what is eternal! I suppose we’re often not so much like a merchant, but instead like a layman who is unable to distinguish an expensive pearl from a cheap one. How would our lives be different, how would we allocate our time and effort, if we truly understood the worth of God’s kingdom?

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7 Comments

  1. Interesting thoughts. I always love how you take simple things that happen during your day and apply it in a spiritual context. For my workplace, the occasional food parties are an important part of team morale and an excuse to unglue ourselves from the computer monitor. We have a table as a dedicated snack bar where we’d take turns to bring in nibbles to share, and it’s always the most vibrant, social corner of an otherwise dry, politically correct and eerily quiet office.

    Physical food may be incomparable to spiritual food, but it is the only allegory through which we may begin to grasp and appreciate what the taste of divine cuisine can do to us/for us. :)

    Reply

    1. Thanks, I think Jesus first used everyday things, familiar to the people at the time, to teach them about the kingdom of God! You’re right too in that food and sharing food really brings people together in a special way. Ahah maybe even more so in our Asian culture :P

      Reply

  2. Ha sister, you really have good understanding and opinion about some Biblical teaching. And you know how to link them to real life. Nice, what you wrote inspires me a lot :)

    免费的食物

    我朋友知道我见到食物就会两眼放光,尤其是在工作时喜欢趁机咬一口吃的。在过去的几个月中,我逐渐发现哪个小厨房有饼干罐,哪个冰箱稳定供应公共牛奶,哪一个茶室提供外加Milo的茶袋。今年我在不同的医院工作,但这些医院都有一个共同点,那就是每周都会为年轻的医生提供“免费”的披萨(之所以免费是因为以我们每周对周围居民的贡献)在吃披萨的这些日子,你会看见一大群平日在医院随处可见的医生挤在一个小房间前,垂涎欲滴地望着那扇门。这多少让人觉得有些滑稽。如果下一位开门的人不是那为拿披萨的,人群中就会传出一阵失望的抱怨声。一定会有人好奇为什么这种低质量,高脂肪且随处都可买到的食物会让我们如此兴奋?

    不过不仅仅是年轻的医生和医学生被食物吸引而已。我觉得下面这段话很好笑:

    “。。。你们找我,并不是因见了神迹,乃是因吃饼得饱。不要为那必怀的食物劳力,要为那存到永生的食物劳力,就是人子要赐给你们的。”(约6:26-27)

    在耶稣用仅有的五饼二鱼喂饱了5000人后,每一个人都为之折服。他们说:“这真是那要到世间来的先知。”(6:14)他们要强迫耶稣做王,但他溜走了。那一群人急切地寻找,搜索了每一个地方。接着他们又乘船跟着耶稣。但是耶稣看清了他们的动机,就说了上面那番话。他清楚他们之所以跟着他,并不是为了灵命的食粮,而是之前他为他们提供的物质食粮。随后,耶稣教导了属灵方面的问题——关于自己是来自上帝的那一位,关于他是生命的粮,只有吃他的血肉就能得到永生。现在这群浮躁的人不高兴了。尽管他们之前才亲眼见过神迹,他们开始抱怨并不再相信耶稣(6:41-43, 52, 60-61) 。

    “从此,他门徒中多有退去的,不再和他同行。”(约6:66)

    当我们认识到我们需要物质的食物时,我们就真的很难明白到属灵食物的价值。即便我们现在有新约圣经帮我们更好的明白耶稣当时用的比喻(symbolism means 象征or象征主义,I don’t think it fit here, so I use 比喻instead ),我们也好不到哪去。可悲的人群,如此热切地群求免费的食物,却因为他们不明白甚至觉得被耶稣的教训冒犯,便离开了耶稣。他们止步于物质食粮的神迹却拒绝了这些神迹所指向的真理——耶稣基督就是那位应许的弥赛亚,通过他我们能得到永生。

    “这话不是指着这饼说的,你们怎么不明白呢?”(太16:11)

    关于信徒只注重物质食粮的例子在圣经中不止一个。在马太福音6:5-12,耶稣曾警告他的门徒关于“法利赛人的酵”。但他们误以为只是耶稣在指责他们没有带饼。在约翰福音第四章的前半部分,在井边的那位妇人对饮用水的持久供应的兴趣也超过了耶稣提到生命之水重要的属灵意义。不过在这个例子中,她发现了自己灵命的干渴,甚至落下她的水罐去告诉每个人关于耶稣的事。

    “天国又好像买卖人寻找好珠子,遇见一颗重价的珠子,就去变卖他一切所有的,买了这颗珠子。”(太13:45-46)

    这里无意否认食物和水的只要性。但对于未见之物,我们应该要有一点耐心。我们对于属灵的祝福和永恒的东西是何等的轻视!我觉得我们常常不像那个商人,反倒像一位无法分辨贵重和便宜珍珠的门外汉。如果我们真正明白了神国的价值,我们的生活又会变得怎样不同?我们又会如何分配自己的时间和精力?

    Reply

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think 比喻 is the right one to use too. By the way I think ”whilst we recognise the need for spiritual food” paragraph is more like 虽然我们认识…但我们真的很难明白…

      Reply

  3. Ha, long time no see sister! Recently I have not done much translation practice because I worked on this review. Now I finally finish so I will be back to translate your writing again.

    At least there are 3 lessons I have learnt from this article.

    1. Find true foundation of faith

    The first thing I learn is that so-called miraculous experience should not be the foundation of our Christian faith. Undoubtedly, there are countless miraculous signs in Christianity, either recorded in Bible or experienced by believes generation after generation. They are real and encouraging which manifest the mighty of God and his love for his children. Admittedly, such experiences many times can strengthen our belief on God.

    However, we can not base our faith on them . Instead, we ought to establish our belief on the world of God. Just as the Bible says “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ”(Rom 10:17). Indeed, the true foundation for our Christians should be God’s word including his revelation and promise explicitly stated in Bible.

    If we believed in Jesus simply because we are seeking or believing in miracle, we will have wrong motivation to follow Jesus. We are just like those who wanted to follow Jesus because they “saw the miraculous signs”. Since their intention was not genuine, so Jesus “would not entrust himself to them”. Similarly, our Lord will not be pleased if we believe in him for miracle.

    Moreover, without correct and firm foundation established, our faith will be weak and fragile. Sometimes God may show us some miracles to help us make a leap of faith. But if our faith just stop there, once God does not answer our pray or show us any sign, our faith is likely to be wavering.

    2. Focus on what is more important

    Secondly,it is essential for our Christians to set up correct viewpoint of value. We need to learn how to evaluate the importance of different things in our life and recognize which is more important. Our time is short and limited in order to maximally live out the value of life, we need to spend more time on pursing those things which are more valuable and pay less attention to the less meaningful or worthless things. Otherwise our life may just like “chasing wind”.

    So what is more important thing for Christians to focus on? Obviously it is the spiritual blessing from God. The kingdom of God, our spiritual life and relationship with Jesus should always be the first priority. We are all supposed to know the answer theoretically. Unfortunately, when our spiritual life are in weak, the worldly substances only blind our spiritual eyes.

    Certainly the grace of God can also include material blessing such as food, money or any other form of earthly wealth. As long as they are from God, we can enjoy it with grateful heart. But ultimately they are point toward to Jesus so that we should not be drifted away by them. How sorry for those are blinded by the less-important blessing so that they are not able to further perceive the most valuable blessing from God!

    3. Achieve balance and priority

    Last but not least, it is important for us to maintain the balance between spiritual life and material things. For one hand, our attention should be more on the heavenly blessing and not indulge in material comfort. On the other hand, we had better not be too “spiritual” to totally negate the value of the material things in our present life or even like Gnosticism condemning the material world evil. Then we have gone too far.

    As a Christian, we are reasonably supposed to value the spiritual blessing over any material thing. But this does not mean the importance of the latter one can be totally negated. After all Our human beings are the God’s creatures live in the intersection of the spiritual world and materials world. Our constitution consist of physical body and immaterial soul. So we not only has desire for material comforts but also has spiritual pursuit and nature to seek eternity.

    As we still live on the earth, we still need many elements from the material world to sustain our living. Take food for an example, Jesus said “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”(Matt 4:4). This saying distinctly addresses the importance of the God’s word. But Jesus did not deny the necessity of food. The phrase “not alone” indicates the insufficiency of veritable food but it does not suggest we do not need food at all.In a word, our life need both spiritual and material substance to live.

    Therefore we need to keep the balance between them. Certainly so-called “balance” does not imply 50/50 share. It is about “priority” that putting different things in right order in accordance with their value. The more important one should always comes first. So we Christians should always put God’s kingdom and his spiritual blessing in first priority. Meanwhile, it is still rightful for us to appropriately pursue and entertain our physical needs , as long as we submit them to God’s hand and do not let them disturb us from glorying God – the first priority.

    PS. I have gone too far, digressing from the main topic. But I just could not stop. Your writing is too thought-provoking for me :p I think I will do more reviews of your writing in the future. Maybe next time on Meat issues trilogy :)

    Reply

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you make a good point about keeping spiritual and physical pursuits in balance – I think the sermon from last week is still fresh in your mind with the example of Esau who was set on fulfilling physical satisfaction to the detriment of his spiritual blessings, which he despised. Thanks for your help with preparing translation too!

      Reply

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