I am the bread of life
Take this bread
- John 6:22-58 Jesus’ words for life
Jesus the “provocative preacher” disturbs us
We just sang about Jesus being a “provocative preacher” who is the “outsider’s choice” that “inspires and disarms and confuses whoever he chooses to hear his voice” (Sing the Story, p. 37. The song is called “Firstborn of Mary” with implications of a young unmarried poor woman as God’s chosen vessel for coming to earth in a human body.)
We also heard Vanessa read from John’s gospel, chapter 6, where Jesus identifies himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51) and if you eat it you will live.
In response to Jesus’ teaching that “I am the bread of life” we have a disturbance. Most Bibles blame it on “the Jews” as in “Then the Jews began to complain about [Jesus] because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?'” (6:41-42). To blame that disturbed reaction on “the Jews” is wrong and misdirected. It is wrong because it was Judeans and not Jews who were disturbed with Jesus and issued this criticism. The Judeans consistently chose the religion of empire over the religion of God. It is misdirected because blaming it on “the Jews” not only falls into an anti-Semitic reading of John’s gospel but tends to let ourselves off the hook as among those who are disturbed by Jesus.
Do these words naming Jesus in John’s gospel and this song comfort or disturb you? Do we know Jesus to be a “provocative preacher” and “outsider’s choice?” Do we want a Jesus who afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted or do we want a Jesus who comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted? Are we the comfortable or the afflicted?
For the disciples Jesus was hard to figure out or to be too certain about because he turned things upside down. Is it any different for us than for his first disciples? Jesus offered his confused and committed disciples various images of ordinary things of life that he identified with and that revealed his purpose.
As we heard last Sunday, at a table in Emmaus on the day of resurrection Jesus blessed and broke bread and became known forever in a new way. From that day on a central way that we see and know the risen Jesus is in blessed and broken bread of our communion with Christ. That was Luke’s version of Jesus.
“I am the bread of life”
In John’s gospel Jesus identified himself in many ways and words: as light, as living water, as the good shepherd, as the true vine, as friend, as advocate, and as bread. Jesus goes to great lengths to identify himself with bread before his crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus used ordinary language and images to reveal himself as God’s incarnate coming- into-the-world-as-a-human. Yet there is also some mystery in what he said and the images he used to help disciples see and know him. Jesus’ words in John are so poetically powerful that it seems almost presumptuous to use our words to explain his words. Listen again to portions of John’s gospel that we have already heard in John 6. Listen with the ear of your heart as lectio divina or divine listening.
[Read portions of John 6: 32-58]
Jesus’ hearers knew the Exodus story of God’s liberating them from slavery in Egypt. They knew that God’s people grumbled about being hungry and about slavery being better than wandering in the wilderness. They knew that God sent daily bread, manna from heaven that only lasted for the day. Now they hear Jesus identify himself as God’s daily bread, bread sent by God from heaven for today and forever.
They hardly knew what to make of it. And so they struggled to see and know Jesus their daily eternal bread. Out of that struggle came our communion with Christ to “Do this and remember me.”
Once again we do well to remember that Sara Miles received, remembered, and re-enacted Jesus life as God’s daily bread from heaven for today and forever. In Take this Bread, she tells us how that ritual act transformed her to become daily bread for hungry people.
At the Lord’s Table the ordinary stuff of life becomes extraordinarily transformed and transforming in our lives. This ordinary act of breaking and sharing bread when done in this way in worship is a subversive act that transforms our lives and the world.
The Lord’s Prayer
Matthew’s gospel gives Jesus’ most complete teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples a complete prayer — the Lord’s Prayer. It too speaks of this life-giving daily bread that is Jesus. Please turn to # 731 in the back of the Hymnal. Let us pray together the Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. AMEN