(sermon note: 02-13 sermon note)
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.’
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.’
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a duck who walked into a bar and asked the bartender, “Have you got any bread?” The bartender responded, “No, sorry.” The duck asked again, “Have you got any bread?” The bartender, a little bewildered, said, “Nooooo.”
The duck stared back at him, ”Have you got any bread?” “Look, I don’t have any bread and if you ask again I’m gonna nail your beak to the bar!” There was a long pause until finally the duck asked, “Got any nails?” “No!” screamed the bartender. Without breaking his stare, the duck asked, ”Got any bread?”
If only the duck had approached Jesus instead of that bartender! Jesus has no problem providing bread as we heard in our reading. “I am the bread of life, I am the bread of life, I am the bread of life”…John’s account gets to be pretty repetitive. “We get it, Jesus, you’re the bread of life!” Both the duck and Jesus have similar annoying persistence!
Not that Jesus’ claim isn’t a difficult claim to understand. Just because we hear him make it over and over again doesn’t mean we actually understand it. Bread is something that sustains life. Our bodies break it down into consumable calories which then feed our various bodily functions. We understand the nature of bread. What we don’t understand is how Jesus can be bread. Is he talking literally or metaphorically? As far as I recall, Jesus has never taken the form of bread. Jesus has always taken the form of a human being as a means of the divine relating with our human experience. Never has Jesus looked like or resembled a loaf of bread so clearly Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he made such a claim. But in order for bread to be broken down into its consumable calories, first it must be eaten. Was Jesus suggesting cannibalism? Again, not necessarily. But then how can the metaphorical bread get broken down if not eaten? Does the bread just miraculously appear in our stomachs? How does the bread get in our system if not eaten? You can see how tricky Jesus’ claim can become.
It’s no wonder the Jews around him were confused by his words. To further complicate matters, recall all the food restrictions those Jews adhered to as well. Some foods were kosher to eat while others weren’t…some bread is kosher, some isn’t. Unleavened bread is more kosher than leavened bread, harkening back to the wilderness days when leaven was a scarcity. Is Jesus’ metaphorical bread leavened or unleavened? This is no doubt a question they asked themselves when Jesus claimed to be the bread of life. And Jesus only added confusion as the Jews pushed back on his claim: “and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Leavened or unleavened no longer mattered, Jesus’ bread consisted of his flesh! Ah-ha, so you were talking about cannibalism, Jesus! Of course, we hear Jesus’ words and take into consideration the Last Supper and Jesus’ crucifixion. The bread represents the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for our behalf. But those who initially heard his claim didn’t have the privilege of understanding that we do. No, they only heard a baffling non-kosher, cannibalistic claim. And don’t get me started on his claim to be “the living bread.” Last I checked, bread isn’t alive…even the living yeast within it dies off in the baking process. So the expression, “living bread” is a contradiction in itself…
Yes, Jesus’ claim to be “the bread of life” is a difficult teaching. Jesus made several “I am” claims, none of which are easy to understand. But beneath his claim, all of his claims, is a truth about Jesus that isn’t hard to understand: they all lead to life. We shouldn’t get bogged down in the metaphors and contradictions of Jesus’ claims. They all lead to life! And not just any life but eternal life! Life that goes on and on and on…”on and on, my friends” like the song that never ends. Eternal life is the key to all of Jesus’ “I am” statements. We all want it, for ourselves and for our loved ones. We want to know there isn’t an end to us or those we love. In Jesus, there is no end, his love goes on and on and on. Recall the words that Jesus prayed later on in the book of John, “and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (17:3) To know God is to know the unending love of God. Oh, what a gift to know God, to have no worry or care! To be loved and cherished for all of eternity! To know and be known by God, oh what a gift! Just a little bit earlier in John, Jesus said, “very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (5:24) To have eternal life is to be above judgment. There is nothing to be judged, all are one, behaving and existing as one. No worry, no care, no judgment, no pain, no sorrow, this is the reality of eternal life. The prophet Joel said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (2:32) There is salvation in eternal life, salvation from the woes and trials of this world. Friends, eternal life is a gift found in Jesus.
Jesus made several claims about who he was, all difficult to understand. What isn’t difficult to understand is how they all lead to the life found in Jesus…the eternal life, life of awareness and salvation, free of any judgment and condemnation. Oh, what a gift from God! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.