Food in the summer can be especially delightful. If you live in the country or have a garden in your yard, in such a place the ripeness of the summer crop enriches all the senses; nothing can be more wonderful than a sun-warmed tomato off the vine or plump berries picked from lush bushes. Even city dwellers can get fresh food from farmers' markets: sweet corn picked early that morning from a farmer's field could be on your table for lunch. In the summer, you can be out-of-doors more, which makes the nature images in scripture that much more alive to you. Many go on long hikes up mountains that did not seem so steep on the map?
Hungrier and hungrier, achier and achier, concerned that the sky will never break through the trees, the hiker longs for the assurance we read about in Deuteronomy: "The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these 40 years." Nevertheless, by following the path -- "walking in God's ways and by fearing him" -- the trail begins to level out. The summit -- and your picnic spot -- approaches and you see a vista more marvellous than you could have imagined down there at the track start. You are tired and relieved when you get there. You are exhilarated and awestruck by where God has led you. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing.
There are other summer images of abundance: I think of children dancing in the spray of water at a pool, or the ice cream truck that drives through the neighbourhood right up to your door and has just what you want. Think of free concerts in city parks and Friday night food stalls and music. Think of the smell of bread right out of the oven, standing on the sidewalk outside a bakery. Images like those would be the ones used if the Bible were written today about places where there were four seasons: images of abundance and grace, ordinary, simple and ever available.
Jesus' words about the bread of life rang true with his hearers. Those who long for the knowledge and love of the Lord will find it in abundance and simplicity. It is no mistake that words everyone understands -- bread, water -- are used to tell us what the wisdom of God is like. Climb that mountain and nothing tastes sweeter than the simple Vegemite and cheese or pickle and ham or tomato sandwich you packed that morning, the one that got a little squashed in your backpack. No vintage wine could be better than flowing water from the mountain stream. Walk down that sidewalk on a hot day and find refreshment that no king could equal by plunging into the cold water of the city pool.
Jesus uses those old images of the messianic banquet, the abundance of the fruits of wisdom, to say this to his hearers: the banquet is here now. You no longer have to wait. Wisdom is not in some far-off distant future; it is here now, in the person of Jesus. "I am the bread of life," he says. Food is available, lots of it, to all who seek. If you ever get the chance, enjoy the summer. It is our text for these months, showing us the abundance of God's unfailing love, the extreme depth and abundance of the bread of life and the living water Christ offers us. Out of that abundance, we are called to respond in love. Have another sandwich. Take another drink from the stream. Get another ice cream. There is more than enough to go around.