The Bread of Life
9th After Trinity John 6: 24-35 Ephesians 4: 1-16
Today we have a every interesting set of questions and answers 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 healing miracles, but now, 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 jobs, 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 is 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 do we do that?" they ask. "How do we perform the works of God?"
His answer is disarmingly simple: "This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent."
The people aren't sure they can do that. Do you remember the brand of white bread called Wonderloaf.
With the aroma of yesterday's Wonderloaf still fresh in their nostrils, they have the audacity to ask for a sign. "Prove it," they say, and they recall their ancestors and Moses and the miraculous manna from heaven. So Jesus reminds them that Moses was not the author of that bread. 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: a painful loss, physical suffering, financial difficulties, betrayal or bereavement. These are roads that we travel not by choice, but by necessity, for this is the stuff of life. We too will need sustaining; and in our wilderness the bread is still available for us for Jesus is the still the bread of life.
This is no abstract theological discussion from which everyone can go home with his or her ideas unchanged. This requires a commitment to Jesus, and we see the people trying to wriggle out of it.
'Do another miracle to help us believe,' they say. And remember, these are people who have just the day before seen Jesus feed five thousand people with five rolls and two sardines. This request could hardly be cheekier. 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.
Jesus’ mission is not a spectator sport. The request for a sign is actually quite ironic. If such a sign could offer proof apart from having to believe in him Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 would have done the trick. For ‘seeing is believing’ for them. Missing the irony, however, the crowds seek some dramatic act, like the manna in the wilderness that will enable them to believe. Such a desire for proof is certainly not foreign 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?’ Jesus, however, refuses to give the people what they are seeking and after all this talk about bread, the people are probably "starving" by this point, and 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." the inference is 'Do you want it, or not?'
Isn't it strange that they don't seems 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 it to us.’ But suddenly when it is becoming clear what Jesus is really talking about, 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.
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In a few moments you will receive the bread into your hands. In the mystery of the sacrament you are joined with all who have gone before, with Moses, Elijah and the prophets, with Andrew, Simon, James the apostles and all the saints and martyrs of the Church. In the bread you are joined with all in the present who are part of the Communion, far beyond the bounds of this church, this parish this island. In this 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, should go home satisfied this morning. Surely it is a Wonderloaf after all. When you hold the bread, hold it lightly, eat it with reverence and awe for it is the Bread of Life.