In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press—a short time ago, historically speaking.
In the 576 years since, we’ve managed to take the old moveable type press from the print shop to the desktop in our homes, where nearly everyone has a printer that spits out perfectly-printed text in any one of a gazillion possible fonts at a rate that would have left Gutenberg in shock.
Printing today is quick and easy, but now printing has become even more sophisticated with the advent of the 3-D printer, which allows you to print an object out of plastic, metal or ceramic materials.
While still not as ubiquitous as the paper printer, 3-D printers will eventually enable the average person to manufacture his or her own products for use in the home, the office or the garage.
Need a replacement part for the lawn mower? Just push “Print.”
Want to give a gift that is truly unique and one of a kind? It will be easy to manufacture your own—if you can think it, you will be able to print it.
It’s an exciting new technology, and, like most exciting new technologies, Americans will no doubt try to figure out how to use it for one of our favorite pastimes: eating.
The microwave oven, the Crock-Pot, the electric knife, the food dehydrator, the Foreman Grill are just a few of the ways we’ve injected technology into the kitchen, and now a new product promises to take our obsession with both printing and food, to the next level.
Presenting the 3-D food printer… the “Foodini!”
Like a regular 3-D printer, it replicates usable items, only what it prints, you can eat.
Instead of printing with plastic or ceramics, the Foodini uses ingredients squeezed out of stainless steel capsules for its edible “ink.”
Need to make some ravioli, but you don’t have time? Just push “Print.”
Need a cake decorated but you don’t have any artistic ability? The Foodini will handle it for you.
The Foodini even has a touchscreen that connects it to a recipe site in the world wide web “cloud”, which means it may eventually enable you to “print” dinner from your smartphone while you’re commuting home from work.
Foodies are coming up with other ways that the Foodini will be a great help in the kitchen.
For senior citizens, the Foodini offers a way to print food that’s easier to swallow while looking more like real food worth eating.
For those who need customized nutrition, the accuracy of 3-D printing allows exact dosages of vitamins or drugs to be put in food.
Researchers are also using it to see whether unlikely protein sources like insects and algae can be transformed into food with a color, taste, and texture that people will happily eat—or not.
A myriad of ideas are possible when your food is custom-made.
Right now, the Foodini’s $1,000 price tag means that it’s targeted mostly at professional users, but, as with most technology, the price will eventually come down and, in the near future, we may find ourselves regularly printing out our dinners.
Given the crowds that always followed him around, if there was anyone who could have used a Foodini, it was Jesus.
In John 6, we read one of the most familiar stories in Scripture: a story that is common to all four of the gospels.
It’s the story of a lot of people showing up for dinner on short notice with no microwave or ingredient capsules in sight.
John tells us that the large crowd kept following Jesus around “because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”
The presence of the crowd creates a dilemma for disciples. How are they going to feed all these people?
John’s gospel is a little different from the synoptic gospels in that it’s Jesus who poses the question about dinner instead of his disciples. “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asks Philip.
Now this is actually a rhetorical question Jesus is asking because “he himself knew what he was going to do.”
Philip, however, was checking the price tag and running the numbers in his head about what it was going to cost to feed such a huge crowd— which was a lot more than even a Foodini.
Six months wages was a lot of money, and it wouldn’t buy enough for the people in the crowd to even have one printed communion wafer.
The only ingredients available for dinner were meager at best—five barley loaves and two fish.
Replicating that miniscule meal for 5,000-plus people would take more than a Foodini— it would take more like an industrial food-processing plant.
And yet, Jesus has the people sit down on the fresh spring grass.
He takes the loaves and gives thanks to God, and then starts distributing the loaves and fish to the crowd himself, another deviation from the synoptic versions where the disciples are the wait staff.
What happens next is nothing short of amazing.
Jesus’ distribution of the food results in replication, at a rate that would burn out any printer, 3-D or otherwise.
So much food is copied that after everyone had their fill, 12 baskets are left over.
Like a kitchen tech geek watching the Foodini at work, the crowd was amazed at what they had seen, saying, “This is indeed the prophet who has come into the world.”
The feeding of the 5,000+ people is no doubt one of Jesus’ greatest miracles.
The most amazing multiplication of this miracle meal, however, goes way beyond the loaves and fishes.
John, in fact, wants us to pick up on some other ingredients from this story that have been replicated over and over again— a kind of eternal Foodini, if you will.
John reminds us that this outdoor meal took place near the Passover, the meal that commemorated the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt—a meal replicated year after year for centuries in Jewish homes as a reminder of God’s power, and plan.
It’s also a reminder of the daily bread in the form of manna that sustained the Israelites in the desert.
But it’s even more importantly a foretaste of another meal that will take place at a later Passover, when Jesus will eat with disciples in an upper room on the night before his crucifixion—where, like on this hillside today, Jesus hosts a meal, breaking the bread and giving thanks for it and then passing it for all to share in.
Through these meals Jesus is doing more than feeding hungry people…
He’s doing more than reminding them of their past…
He’s doing more than giving them a symbolic reminder of who he is.
Jesus is giving the people, in all these stories, the Bread of Life, which leads them to life eternal.
We’re still enacting this meal today when we gather for Holy Communion.
This is a meal that’s been copied over and over again; a three-dimensional sign of God’s love for us revealed in bread and cup.
What is copied and distributed to us is none other than the Bread of Life, which keeps on sustaining, keeps on filling, and keeps on strengthening.
It’s a free meal offered to us by the one who already paid for it with his broken body and shed blood— an eternal supply of “Bread” that enables us to “live forever.”
All we need do is to come and receive it.
There is a catch though. Well, it’s not so much a catch because Jesus never makes us do anything—the choice is always ours.
The catch is, once we receive it, there is an expectation that we will share it.
The crowd Jesus fed was so enamored by this gift that they actually became selfish—so much so that they were going to take him by force, and keep him for themselves.
“When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew.”
They received this gift, but missed the part where this gift was not theirs alone, not theirs to keep for only themselves. It was a gift for any and all. They were not to keep it to themselves. They were to share it.
They were to embody it; in such a way that anyone who encountered them, who crossed paths with them would find in them a changed person, someone who was in this world, but no longer of this world.
German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, used to tell a story about a hungry man passing a store with a sign in the window, “We Sell Bread.”
Upon seeing the sign, the hungry fellow goes into the store, puts some money on the counter, and says, “I’d like to buy some bread.”
The women behind the counter replies, “Why, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid you have made a mistake. We don’t sell bread.”
Confused and irritated, the hungry man says, “But the sign in the window says that you do.”
The clerk then explains. “Here we only make signs, like the one in the window that says ‘We Sell Bread.’ We made one like that for a baker, but we don’t actually make bread.”
Thielicke concludes his lesson in story, saying, “A hungry man can’t eat signs. But is this what the church is doing today? Making signs instead of offering bread?”
His question was relevant in the mid–twentieth century when he asked it, and its relevant today.
Christians are called to share the bread of life that is Jesus.
So how are we offering this bread? As a church? As individuals?
Do we put up a sign that tells people we are Christian, but hope and pray no one ever expects us to deliver on that sign?
Do we just put out a sign and simply hope people will walk in?
How are we offering and sharing the bread of life? Are we at all?
Do people who cross paths with us find a changed person, a different person who is in this world, but no longer of this world?
A myriad of ideas are possible when your food is custom-made.
But there is only one food that will change us, sustain us, and make us whole. Bread. Bread of life.
Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus has custom made a meal for us by which we are offered the grace to be fully satisfied forever.
So may we partake of this food, and then share it with others in every way possible so that we continue to replicate its grace for the world! Amen.