9th Sunday after Trinity
John 6: 24-35 ‘Just Eat’
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
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.
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our rock and our redeemer. Amen"
Today we have a very interesting set of questions and answers that took place between Jesus and the people following him. It tells us a lot about what the people thought they were looking for in Jesus, and gives us a clear picture of what Jesus thought about his mission here on earth.
The theme is food, which is not surprising, considering the conversation follows very closely on from the feeding of the five thousand. The people following Jesus are hoping for more miracles, after being fed by him in such a miraculous way, they are hoping never to go without a meal again.
We don't know very much about the people who followed Jesus. They can't have had steady nine-to-five work, because some of them obviously followed him around for days. Perhaps they were from the strand of society where the source of the next meal was a continual worry.
Jesus doesn't seem to be angry with them, but he is definitely trying to make them look beyond lunchtime. For many of them, this conversation is to be a turning point. Up to now they have been largely spectators and recipients, but Jesus is forcing them to think and make choices. They have followed, watched, eaten and had a really exciting time, and most of them hope it will continue. But now they are confronted with the annoying question of meaning.
By the end of this chapter of the Gospel, quite a lot of the crowd will have gone home, unwilling or unable to answer that question satisfactorily.
Jesus challenges them not to waste time on things that have no lasting value; The bread you are after, he tells them, will not last. Yesterday you ate the bread and now you are hungry again. There is food that perishes and there is food that lasts. God the Father has sent me to provide you with the food that lasts, so work for that food. How, they ask. Jesus answer is disarmingly simple: ‘This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ The people are concerned for their stomachs. Jesus is concerned for their lives. The people want to feed themselves with bread. Jesus wants to feed them with God.
I wonder how many of you remember the brand of white bread called Wonderloaf, it was certainly around in the 50’s and 60’s? With the aroma of yesterday’s miracle Wonderloaf still fresh in their nostrils, the people have the audacity to ask Jesus for a sign. ‘Prove it’ they cry, and they recall that Moses fed their ancestors with the miraculous manna from heaven. Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses that fed them. ‘It came from my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.’ In one way or another each of us will at some time be challenged by a personal wilderness experience: a painful loss, physical illness, financial difficulties, betrayal of trust, bereavement or any of life’s traumas. These are the roads on which we travel, not always by choice, but by necessity, for this is the stuff of life. Just like the people in the story today we will need sustaining; and in our wilderness experience the bread is still available for us, for Jesus is still the bread of life.
This requires a commitment to Jesus, but the people are wanting another miracle to help them believe. Remember these are the people who have just the day before seen Jesus feed five thousand people with five rolls and two sardines. But Jesus will not let them pretend that they have not understood. He will not let them go home and talk only about the amazing things they have seen. Such a desire for proof is certainly not a foreign concept today. In our religiously plural world, where claims about the centrality of Jesus seem to be such a scandal, the desire for some sure evidence; some proof of Jesus’ existence is understandable. People still say ‘Why should I follow Jesus rather than any number of other gods or gurus?
When it becomes evident that Jesus is not going to perform a miracle for them they cry out: "Sir, give us this bread always." Whatever Jesus is talking about, they want it! Only at this point does Jesus direct them to himself. Using the divine "I am," Jesus announces, "I am the bread of life’ He is offering the people himself. He is the imperishable bread that nourishes and sustains imperishable life.’ He is the bread that is broken and distributed for the life of the world. He is the bread that is broken and yet never divided. He is the bread that is eaten and yet never exhausted. He is the bread that consecrates those who believe in him.
Our text for today stops here, but if we read on we discover that the people don’t seem to know how to answer. When they could persuade themselves that Jesus was only talking about actual food, they knew the answer quickly enough. 'Give us this bread.’ But when it is becoming clear what Jesus is really talking about, that He is the living bread - the crowd go quiet. They know they don't want to go hungry again, but they don't know if they want to believe in him. They don’t know if they are willing to make a commitment. They just want to tip up for the good bits, they are not willing to be in for the long haul. That certainly could ring many a bell in the church today.
‘I am the bread of life,’ Jesus tells the people. ‘Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ He is offering the people himself. He is the imperishable bread that nourishes and sustains imperishable life.
Jesus makes us the same offer. When we believe in Jesus, ingesting, and taking him into our lives, we will live differently. We will see ourselves and one another as people created in the image and likeness of God. We will trust the silence of prayer rather than the words of argument. We will choose love and forgiveness rather than anger and retribution. We will relate to each other with vulnerability rather defensiveness. We will listen for God’s voice rather than our own. Ultimately, we will seek life rather than death.
When we approach the table of the Lord and take the bread into our hands we enter the mystery of the sacrament. Here we are joined with all who have gone before, with Moses, Elijah and the prophets, with Andrew, Simon, the apostles and all the saints and martyrs of the Church. In the bread we are joined with all in the present who are part of the Communion, far beyond the bounds of our church, parish or this island. In the sacramental bread we are joined to Jesus Christ who was, and is and is to come. With such a profound nourishing of the soul we too, like those who ate of the miracle bread on the shores of Galilee, will be refreshed and sustained. Surely it is a Wonderloaf after all. Never let receiving communion become familiar, or a ritual; whenever you hold the bread, hold it lightly, eat it with reverence and awe for it is where we encounter Jesus the Bread of Life.