It’s Not About the Bread
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
August 8, 2021 Rev. Dr. Darlis Swan
John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said to the crowd, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Jesus said to the crowd, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
It’s not about the bread.
In the verse I just quoted, Jesus identifies himself by saying, “I am the bread of life.” We interpret this to mean that it is Jesus who is capable of sustaining life. Once again, the crowd just didn’t get it. They thought that it was bread from the miracle (feeding of the five thousand) that filled them up. In a way we can understand what Jesus must have been up against here.
Most of us are or have been parents or teachers. We know that a lesson well-prepared does not necessarily mean that we will successfully get the point across – no matter what kind of technology we may use! Have you ever had the experience of telling your children or students something so succinctly that you thought they couldn’t miss the point – but they did? Well, that’s what happened here. You may also have had your children intentionally misunderstand. And we ourselves may do that – especially if it is something we don’t want to hear.
Now the gospel for today may seem to be a repeat of last Sunday’s, but there are some significant changes. Up to this point the gospel writer has been telling us about the “crowds” following Jesus. Now the crowd is the “religious authorities” – an important change. In John’s gospel, these “authorities” appear to be the opponents of Jesus.
So there is a change in the conversation – it is no longer the anonymous crowd. These “authorities” are quoting Jesus in verse 41. They complained because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” but he hadn’t actually said that yet. The conversation has changed from a dialogue – of sorts – to a kind of confrontation. You see they know who Jesus is. They know his parents are Mary and Joseph. They claim they know he did not come down from heaven. Jesus pretty much tells them to stop grumbling. Just as we teachers and parents might do when we know we are being misunderstood – Jesus knows that these “religious authorities” have not understood his point. There is a breakdown in communication – to say the least.
It’s not about the bread.
Jesus tried to correct the misunderstanding of the crowd/religious leaders, by identifying himself as the “bread of life.” He goes on to say that whoever believes in him will never be hungry, and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. He is suggesting here that the deepest of needs of all human beings will be met by Christ. The hunger and thirst represent the emptiness of existence without God. That kind of hunger and thirst can only be satisfied by belief in Jesus Christ. And here is where our Lutheran beliefs seem to make sense. We believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone. The only “good work” that we really need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus Christ. And that faith comes to us as a gift!
If this were a dialogue sermon, I would ask you this: do we find it a little disturbing, or even threatening, that our faith – being drawn to Jesus – is ultimately up to God?
I think we understand this sense of being “drawn” to see, listen, or hear a person or presence. These days, even if it is just a “virtual” presence. In planning church events we are always seeking to find a famous person who will attract and bring people together so that God’s word may be spoken and community and unity may abound. I was fortunate to be the representative from the ELCA to an assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA in 1997 when I was on the national staff. I was thrilled to learn that Dave Brubeck, the famous jazz musician, would be on the stage. Somehow God’s word emanated through his music.
On another occasion, in 1998 when we were leaving South Africa, I remember nearly stepping on another passenger to get to a window on the plane to get a mere glimpse of Nelson Mandela, that country’s first black head of state, who was walking on a red carpet on his way to board a plane.
While my analogy isn’t perfect, God draws us to him through Jesus Christ. And he promises us eternal life. God is the one who pulls us to Jesus.
It’s not about the bread. Jesus is the heavenly bread.
That means his very flesh and blood is the means through which we receive the living presence of God. No wonder it is only through God’s grace that we can believe! In other words, one cannot come to Jesus on one’s own. God calls us; the Lord instructs us; and we, as disciples, learn.
Jesus makes a firm declaration in verse 51: he says, correcting what the “religious authorities” said earlier, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” You see these leaders were trying to fit Jesus into their frame of reference, and in some ways that is understandable. They were trying to connect feeding with the food (manna) given to their ancestors. Jesus said – it is about living bread! Jesus is speaking to the leaders near the time of the Passover, and he is turning the tradition upside down. But let’s not be too critical of those “religious authorities”. Sometimes we need to turn traditions upside down in order to really hear and be drawn to Jesus’ words. While daily bread is needed, this struggle, ultimately, is about the kind of hunger and thirst that only Jesus can satisfy.
To bring this message back home or full circle, I return to Father Daniel Berrigan, a leader of the nonviolent movement of the 60’s and one of the “Harrisburg Seven.” He has published fourteen volumes of poetry. One of particular relevance here is called “And The Risen Bread.” As one who fought for peace and justice and engagement of church and world, he commonly used biblical themes. In one of his poems, “And He Fed Them All,” he writes about the speed with which people flocked to Jesus – looking for a miracle of life in the midst of brokenness and death. There is hope for all who come to be fed and to taste and see God’s promises.
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
And He Fed Them All
by Daniel Berrigan
Christ had worked wonders for —
The gentle blind
hearing like fauns
the fall of leaf, the hunters mindless will —
like marvelous broken statuary;
they come for eucharist, as though rumor ran
in grim autumnal streets
long cold, long unfed
of miraculous loaves and fishes among the dead.