John 6:35 (NIV84) 'Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."'


Bread has great symbolic power!

It marks the poverty line – the bread line;

It speaks of friendship and community – breaking bread together;

It is the symbol of hope and opportunity – cast your bread upon the waters;

It signifies basic needs – bread and butter issues;

It captures security and responsibility – the bread-winner!

In this article we look at the reality we face each day: Enemy Number One in our world today is Poverty. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, so we cannot ignore this reality. Proverbs leaves us no option either. Wise people engage with this reality and make a positive contribution. Proverbs generalises the group of folk who, for a variety of reasons, often face being picked on, treated as outcasts, and who feel helpless, as ‘the poor’. God says: “Mess with the poor and you mess with me. You bless the poor and I will bless you”. Listen to these: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker” (Proverbs 14:31 & 17:5); He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17).

 Three thoughts: One about facts, one about our call to compassion, and one about identity:

 THE BREAD-LINE: The facts

John 6:1-6 (The Message) ‘After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.

 The Question Jesus asks us: John 6:5: When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Some Stats: Over one third (1/3rd) of the world population goes to be hungry every night. The world economic forum speakers called on us to deal with the fact the we live in a world of such potential crime, because the poor have motivation and access to acts of violence and terror if left poor.  World facts from various websites referred to are:

  • Poverty levels are rising: There are 39.3 million people below the official poverty level in 1993, which is up from the 1992 level of 38 million! This had risen to 57 million people in 2003, of which 10.5 million were children less than 5 years old.
  • 27 million people die every day of hunger or hunger related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one every three and a half seconds.
  • Treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, become-life-threatening when combined with poverty, war, poor sanitation, inadequate health care and insufficient preventative measures (Note: 'Care: Children and Poverty Campaign')
  • Half the worlds population – nearly 3 billion people – live on less than 2US$ a day (see: )
  • The GDP of the poorest 48 nations (25% of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s 3 richest people combined.
  • Nearly 1 billion people – one third of the worlds population, can read or sign their names.
  • 20% of population in the developed nations consume 86% of the world’s goods.
  • The richest 50 million people in Europe and North America have the same income as 2.7 billion poor people.
  • In 2004 0.13% of the worlds population controlled 25% of the world’s wealth.
  • 12% of the world population uses 85% of its water, and that 12% do not live in the Third World.
  • Consider the global priorities in spending in 1998:

Global Priority

US$ Billions



Ice cream in Europe


Perfumes in Europe and USA


Pet foods in Europe and USA


Business entertainment in Japan


Cigarettes in Europe


Alcoholic drinks in Europe


Narcotic drugs in the world


Military spending in the world


Now compare this to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority

US$ Billions

Basic education for all


Water and sanitation for all


Reproductive health for all women


Basic health and nutrition


  • Less than 1% of the military spending would have put every child in school by the year 2000, but it did not happen. Now what if we spent just 40 Billion US$ of the money that is spent on weapons and war instead on basic education, water, sanitation, reproductive health for women and basic heath care? There is enough money in the world to solve the world’s problems!


The question we ask: ‘Is there enough?’ A fear-based question: John 6: 7 Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”’ Fear drives many of our questions and decisions and is the opposite of love!

The gift of one boy led to the answer and fed a crowd

John 6: 8-9” ‘One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”’

What do we have in our hands? What is it that we do have that we can release in love and share?


THE BREAD: The Food:

The question: Do we need to feed every person we see along the way who asks for food?

The Financial Mail states that the unemployment percentage has dropped from 24.4% to 24.2 % in the last quarter of 2009. Whilst this is encouraging, this still means that almost 1 in 4 people are unemployed in South Africa! We believe that there is enough food being generated to feed the hungry. It was Mahatma Ghandi who said that there is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.

Note from this passage how we let Jesus cultivate compassion in us: How do we learn to show mercy and grace to the poor? How can we break out of our isolation and apathy, and expand our hearts to more than those intimately connected to us?


John 6: 5-6 ’When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.’

Proverbs 28:17: “He who closes his eyes to [the poor] receives curses.”

Jesus came to express compassion to the poor and needy, and that includes us! He opened his eyes and saw the crowd and had compassion. Because He saw the need he did something. The boy in our story saw the need, and responded to Jesus. He saw  the people first, and was able to take action.

When we drive do we just see the road or do we see the poor, their houses, and even their faces. The only way to grow in compassion, is to keep our eyes open! It is not difficult in our context to see the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the neglected, and the needy. They are in the nursing homes, the hospitals, they stand at street corners, they are in our inner city, they are in the AIDS clinics, and they are at the drug rehab. centres.



John 6: 10: Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them.’

Jesus felt this. He felt compassion on the people, and so then moved to action. Believing comes from seeing. He saw and then felt the love that needed to be expressed in action. We need to build a relationship with a poor person first. James 2: 15-16 tells us of the joy of giving. It is better and more wonderful to give than to receive.


We can only do a big outer work, when a greater work is done in us. We need to feel the pain of God for the poor and needy. We need to respond out of the Spirit’s work in us. If we do not feel this compassion, then we need to look again at the cross, and acknowledge our indebtedness to God that he had such compassion on us when we were lost and in need!


John 6: 11-13: ‘Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.  When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.’

The principal: What you keep you loose, but what you give you keep. Jesus broke the bread and gave to so many, that there was to spare. Notice how the boy offered what he had. Jesus took what was there and made it very significant.

There are many wonderful stories of those who feed the hungry and I will share about my experiences in another article. My only caution in this is: Do something practical for one project, or one person. Do not try to conquer the world at once. You will get burned out!


Jesus offers the essence of life: John 6:34-35: They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.’ Jesus is the basic essence of life. Bread is the essential part of life (Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 5:16; 14:13); bread and water make up life’s two basic staples (Num. 21:5; Isa. 3:1). It is frequently used as a metaphor for food in general (Judg. 13:16; Luke 15:17).

We also acknowledge that Jesus is IN the ordinary parts of life. He is God the true parent who provides the basics for life.

Note who He speaks to and what he does: He speaks to the Father and obeys the Father.

Obedience: Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 5: 34). Doing God’s will is more important than food, and in itself feeds us at a deeper level. Where do we need to be more obedient?

Daily Bible reading: Jesus said: “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4). Reading the Scriptures daily feeds our lives, guides our thoughts, and empowers our decisions.

Sharing in the Sacrament of Holy Communion: Our Lord chose the bread of the Passover to be the symbolic memorial of his broken body.[1]

Note who is revealed and who gets the glory: John 6: 14-15: ‘The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, “This is the Prophet for sure, God’s Prophet right here in Galilee!” Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself.’ [2]

The Bible abounds with references to bread. Jesus says: “I am the Bread of Life”. When we speak of a solution to our problems today we speak of the One who is the Bread of Life!


I quote Rick warren here: The strength of a Church is not in its seating capacity but in its sending capacity. How are we being sent?


[1]Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (146). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[2]  Peterson, E. H. (2002). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.