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There is no such thing as a ‘free meal’

August 1, 2015

I think of my cats and I wonder…

I have two cats. Two elderly boys who rule the house – at least they think they do. They are very affectionate but I am convinced that deep down they see those of us with opposable thumbs as their slaves, put here solely to do their will and pander to their every need. They must be so disappointed in me. They make it clear that they want feeding and I try to tell them about some strange thing called ‘dinner time’. Or they try to wake me in the night and can’t understand the concepts of ‘morning’ or ‘breakfast time’. They’re wonderful but annoying and to them I must seem so slow and thick – how could I possibly not understand!

If you’re a cat lover like me try looking up for amazingly well observed cartoons and short animations (

I think of my cats and I wonder why I put up with them but never for very long. Really I know that I love them and that is not going to change. I’m not going to give up on them because they’ve been sick again or for deciding that 4am is a great time to play, pick a fight or both!

I often think of my cats but today it’s been prompted by reading John 6.24-26. When the people hound Jesus he tells them straight, “‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” They sound so like my cats, particularly their obsession with their stomach! My cats are just being cats and in a way those people are just being people. We all like a good show and who turns down a free meal? – I know I don’t. So I suspect that I would have been no different from the people in those crowds. I would probably have grasped that this man Jesus was a bit different – perhaps even that he was very special: He was certainly a local celebrity. But like them I can be slow to get the point. I can well believe that I too would have been swept along with the crowd; looking for a free party just like all the rest.

They wanted a free meal but, as the saying goes, “There is no such thing as a ‘free meal’.” This is so true here. Jesus had cared for these hungry people but like most of his miracles feeding thousands of people was also an important sign of who he was. Sadly, the people were keen to have the food but they just hadn’t taken in the message. They had missed the point so Jesus has to spell it out for them, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’”

By feeding thousands of people with a few fish and a little bread Jesus was trying to show them that a new kingdom was here. A kingdom with eternal values; values that should be lived out and not just talked about. Jesus describes his message and these eternal values as ‘eternal food’; food that always nourishes and never goes bad. So what is this eternal food? Again Jesus makes this clear, it is his teaching and all that he gives through the Spirit.

At this point I need to stop. I need to stop free-loading and listen to what Jesus is trying to tell me. I need to stop and let Jesus feed me with whatever food is right for me, right here and now. Do I need courage? Perhaps an injection of pure faith to overcome the doubts around me? The list of eternal foods that I need seems to be endless. But then there is so much spiritual junk food around: So much greed dressed up as enlightened self interest: So much pressure to value myself by the things that I have, and by the things that I can buy. The junk food of consumerism and pettiness draw me to them like the mouthwatering smell of frying onions on a burger stall. I can’t blame anyone but myself – I really want all this junk food. I also know that a little won’t do any real harm. A burger every now and again won’t kill me! No, but a diet of nothing but burger and pizza, washed down with beer probably will.

I fall so often. I gorge on mental junk food, and become small minded, mean and petty. I start blaming others for my failings, I start to bitch and moan. See a little white collar doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. I’m no better but thankfully I know someone who is: One who understands and strangely he doesn’t just feed me the healthy food that I need. Jesus does more than that, far more: Jesus seems be able to redeem everything. He turns my failings into places where he can shine more. He never ceases to amaze me. Once Jesus turned water into wine, now its junk food into health food with a flavour to die for.

Going back to where I started I think again about my two cats. I smile at their antics, I give thanks that I’m loved as least as much as they are and I pray that I’m not quite such a pain to God.

  1. Take heart – whenever I think I spend more time on animals than I do on my fellow man I remember “An you do that for the least of these my brethren, you do it unto Me.” You’d give Him a free meal wouldn’t you?

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