August seems to the month of bread so far as the lectionary readings go. Last week, we heard about the 5000 who followed Jesus from the other side of the lake, looking for more food to eat and more signs to prove who Jesus is.
Jesus responded to them and tried to explain the difference between the temporary nature of the manna that their ancestors had and the ‘for ever’ nature of Christ himself. He explained that he was like Heineken - reaching the parts that mere physical food cannot reach.
In John 6, if we read the whole chapter, we will see there are many times when Christ refers to himself as the bread, whether it be the bread of life or the bread of heaven. In today’s New Testament reading, Jesus refers to himself as being bread no less than three times, and it is clear to us that he is a different kind of bread.
He’s a different kind of bread than that which they ate when Jesus fed the five thousand. He’s a different bread to that which they’re looking for in their desire for an encore performance of that miracle - that miracle that made them want to see more signs and proof.
In our reading today, we start by haring that the Jews were complaining; It is not all the Jews, not all the assembled crowed, but it is likely that John described it in this way so as to be representative of those in charge, the scribes and Pharisees. And their words are ones that we have heard before, questioning Jesus’ background, where he's come from as if they were looking at an antique and determining its provenance. “Isn't this the Jesus that came from Nazareth, whose father was Joseph and whose mother was Mary?”
Well yes, it is, obviously. We know that now and they knew that then, but what they didn't know was that this was Christ the Messiah, the one who has come to give freedom to all with the promise of salvation through his love and suffering.
Jesus’ response is beautiful. “quit mumbling”, “quit arguing”. You can almost picture him rolling his eyes as he says it, like a frustrated parent would do to a child who doesn't seem to understand the idea of when to be quiet.
But not only does he tell him to give up mumbling, Jesus responds with a pretty full and frank explanation for them. Let’s take some time to look at the reply and dwell on what Christ’s words mean to us today.
“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.”
To lift up; to encourage; to exalt; to put in a position of importance; to be taken to a better place. There are many ways in which we can understand the word raise.
Raising that person is an important theme in this chapter. This is the third time it’s been mentioned. <span style="font-size: 1rem;">If we were to sit here and read the gospels out loud, it would probably feel quite long, but when you do actually look at them, they are really quite short. And being short, they were written in such a way to convey the important information – the information that really matters about Jesus, his ministry and who He is.</span>
Much like we used to be when writing telegrams, using as few words as possible to convey a message, so the writers of the gospels had to take the same approach. They wrote what was important, what mattered.
So here in the gospel of John Jesus says three times. “I will raise them up on the last day.” That means that it is something we really need to be paying attention to. Jesus is saying this to tell us something.
I think the references to “raising are a message of hope. It might not have seemed like that at the time of Christ, but after his death & resurrection I can imagine those people who heard these words for this first time remembering what Christ had repeatedly said, and finally understanding what he was talking about.
Jesus then refers back to the prophets by saying that all will be taught by God. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the father comes to me.”
Now that’s an interesting thing to think about for a moment. Because Jesus isn’t saying simply if you’re listening to me you’re listening to the Father; what he’s saying is the Father is already at work in your life if you’re coming to listen to me.
It means that God the Father is always and already.at work in people’s lives then and now. What comfortable words to hear! We are not alone in our journeys of learning, of discipleship and of ministry. It makes you think of the words from Psalm23 - “Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
And then we return to bread, not bread as in the manna that was fed to the Israelites in the wilderness, but bread that is living, bread that is a gift given selflessly, bread from heaven, bread that sustains forever.
He’s not talking simply in some sort of a metaphor, he is saying that he is, in reality, the bread of life, pointing the assembled listeners, and us, to the day of his crucifixion and resurrection - the day he gave everything for us.
So what does it mean for Jesus to say: “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
What does it mean for Jesus to be the bread of life? What does it mean for us that we will never be hungry, will never be thirsty?
What does it mean for god (the father) to draw us towards the Son.
What does it mean for us that we should all be taught by god.
So many questions. And each of us will likely have different answers depending on where we are on our journeys in faith and life. And it is through questions that we gain understanding, we find confirmation of our thoughts and ideas and we can be encouraged in asking more questions in the search of understanding and truth.
The questions posed may well help us to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, to reflect on the sustaining nature of Christ in our lives, to reflect on the relationship of God the Father and God the Son and to reflect on our relationship with Jesus.
I hope and pray that you will find time and space to think about the bread of life, to open your hearts and minds so that you are nourished by it. May we all feed on Christ, on his word and on his love, so that we are refreshed and energised in our witness as faithful followers.
Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak;
help the afflicted; honour everyone;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of our Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit remain with us now and always.