John 6: 35-40, 44-51
March 1, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
As we turn to scripture this second Sunday of Lent, we shift a bit from last week’s focus. If you remember, last Sunday we joined Moses as he spoke to a burning bush in the desert. God spoke to Moses and called him to go to Pharoah and tell him to set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt. When Moses asked how to name God to the Israelites, God said, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh – I AM that I AM. I will be what I will be.” Now we jump forward to the New Testament, to John’s gospel, to continue to hear those words, “I AM.” Except now the words are spoken by Jesus, and they are in Greek – “ego eime” – I AM.
As we enter the story here in the 6th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus has just fed 5000 people, so they’ve decided to make him their king. He fed them, so they want to make him king, so he’ll keep feeding them. It’s a first century reversal of the politician’s promise of “ a chicken in every pot.” But in this case, he fed them without expecting their votes. And they’ve just had an all you can eat buffet of bread and fish, with doggie bags to take home.
Now they want more. More! Give us this bread always!
So Jesus answers them: John 6:35-40
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."
Jesus shifts the conversation away from their demands and toward the real source of satisfaction – himself. And not only that, he makes use of some rich imagery of Passover, hearkening back to Moses, the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery, and the manna in the wilderness. Because they have been “murmuring” – just like the Israelites did when they complained about God in the wilderness – those Israelites who had been freed from slavery and were now being led by Moses and fed on manna – bread from heaven – God’s provision. Listen for more of God’s word to you in John 6:44-51
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."
Wednesday night at our Lenten soup and study, we began the evening with fresh, warm bread, just out of the oven. You know, not so hot you can’t hold it in your hand, but warm enough that the butter melts instantly when you spread it on. As we looked at the bread, and smelled it and tasted it, many of us were transported to other places, other times, times in the past when we walked in the door and smelled the bread baking in the oven. There is hardly anything, to my way of thinking, hardly anything, so good as warm bread with real butter. It is so very satisfying.
Most of us have never known real hunger, the kind of hunger that the world’s poorest people face. Most of us have gotten hungry, but we haven’t experienced the grinding pain of true hunger. Many of the people in Jesus time were hungry, often. There were day laborers who made just enough to get by – for one day. There were slaves whose daily bread depended entirely on the good will of their masters. To be invited to a banquet was a wonderful thing – a meal with plenty of food for everyone! So it is understandable, I think, that if Jesus fed us so lavishly yesterday, we’d want him to do it again today. In fact, we’d want him to “give us this bread always.”
It’s also understandable that Jesus would try, once again, to help them understand that he came for more than the lunch rush, more than the blue plate special, or a happy meal. As generous as he was about feeding people, and as glad as he was to go to dinner with them, he had not come to them for gastronomic purposes. So his words are pointing them to another kind of bread, the bread of heaven – not manna – but himself.
It’s easy to draw a connection from Jesus words here to the last supper and his words as he gave them the bread. And I think that is intentional. But the message for the hearers at this point, around the feast of the Passover, and long before Jesus is taken to the cross, is about the passion – the crucifixion. Jesus is drawing parallels from himself to the Passover lamb.
He is using bread as a metaphor for life, for true life, for satisfaction. He himself is the bread that feeds our deepest hunger.
Maybe that deeper hunger, that discontent, is the reason we get so nostalgic about home-baked bread. Time was, everybody ate home-baked bread, because that’s all there was. Then when store-bought sliced bread became available, everybody wanted that. It was the next big thing, the greatest thing since … sliced bread? We are way past that, now. We all want the next big thing – bigger televisions and smaller computers, phones that do everything, even though we don’t make calls on them, more stuff, and someplace to store it, bigger kitchens, better cars.
Nothing wrong with any of that, but anyone whose ridden for long on the street car of desire can tell you that it takes you nowhere. It is more like a bad dream where you are at an all you can eat buffet but you can’t taste any of it and you never feel satisfied. The gnawing hunger for more and better stuff is never satisfied. As we baby boomers have gotten older, more settled, the marketing geniuses have gotten smarter.
Now they don’t just sell us stuff – they sell us experiences:
ziplining in Costa Rica, hiking in the Andes, photography in Kenya, skydiving, cooking, bicycling, gambling, white water rafting – adventures for sale! Plus you can go on silent retreat, or hang out at a Tibetan temple, or work in a rainforest. Your own personal version of “Eat, Pray, Love.”
But if your heart is restless, what do you buy to satisfy it?
If your spirit is hungry, what do you buy to feed it?
Jesus, as you know, is always the answer.
He’s the bread of life – the bread that satisfies.
You can’t buy Jesus, though many have tried to sell him. You can’t own Jesus, though many would tell you that they do. If you want the bread of life, you just have to show up at the banquet. Jesus is the host there and he is the bread. He said it – “I AM the bread of life.” One of the delights of homebaked bread is that it makes you realize how hungry you are for that satisfying taste, how much you’ve missed it, how you’ve longed for it. So you come to the table, drawn by the aroma of grace, and you join all the other hungry people.
You ask what true satisfaction is, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”
You ask what true love is, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”
You ask what real, true, life is, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”
“I am the bread of life. 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. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What can we say in reply ?
“Give us this bread always.”