Our lectionary spends four weeks looking at the implications of the feeding of the five thousand. Last week we looked at the importance of believing Jesus is the bread of life. Today our reading looks towards the death of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection and our own suffering, death and resurrection.
To the Jews Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life was outrageous.
Claiming to be God, which he was doing when he used the phrase “I am,” was blasphemy. These were the words God had used to reveal his character to Moses in the burning bush. Jews, even today believe the name of God is too holy to be said. They therefore refer to him as the name or “I am,” the one who has always been and always will be; the one who is always at work in his world and in our lives.
The Jews knew Mary and Joseph. How could Jesus say he had come down from heaven? What rubbish!
How could Mary share the news that the baby she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit without the help of Joseph? Her family and friends wouldn’t believe her. There was enough shame surrounding the birth of Jesus as she was unmarried when she became pregnant. She wouldn’t want to remind her neighbours in her home village of anything which might lead to her family being ostracised and bullied. The welfare of Jesus and her other children was too important to put at risk.
Jewish complaints about Jesus were understandable. We would have complained in their situation. In their eyes Jesus was pretentious, acting above his station and worst of all was a blasphemer.
Worse still, Jesus had the audacity to tell them not to complain among themselves and that no one could come to him unless drawn by the Father who sent him.
Whilst the Jews knew Jesus’ earthly step father they did not have a relationship with his heavenly Father. These Jews, like all of us had great difficulty in seeing beyond what they knew to be true from the reading of scriptures and the interpretations of the rabbis. Their understanding of God being one Lord meant he couldn’t possibly have a son. Their understanding of being chosen by God meant they couldn’t accept that Jesus was bread for whosoever came to him.
We all have narrow views of the world and God. From time to time these views are challenged and we struggle to balance truth and the scriptures with our lived experience and what is happening in the world around us.
Our views on sexuality, race and gender are constantly challenged in today’s society. We begin to interpret scripture in different ways when we listen to different Christian voices. Science, reason and experience also help us determine what is true.
Moslem, Jewish and Christian fundamentalists have often been so rigid in their interpretation of scripture that they have shown hatred towards those they view as sinners sometimes killing them. Today in Europe we see that mainly coming from Islamic extremists but Christians have been guilty in the past.
They haven’t listened to the stories of those they oppose or attempted to get to know them.
Above everything else Jesus came to bring us into relationship with him and his Heavenly Father. He is the truth come down from heaven. He wants us to love him and our neighbour as ourselves.
Religious hatred towards the LBTQ plus community has sometimes blocked members of that community from finding Jesus as their Saviour. It has led to endless arguments internally in the Church causing a deep rift between Conservative and Liberal Christians.
Whereas in the past there were laws against gay sex often used unfairly the pendulum has swung. Today Christians will be prosecuted if they show any form of discrimination.
I feel sorry for those cake makers and hoteliers who have been prosecuted for their traditional views. The law is a blunt instrument when dealing with these issues.
“Living in Love and Faith” material is produced by the Church of England to get us talking together in love. Our relationships with Christians, who have different views from us, need to be so strong that we can honour and love them. We are called to have deep relationships with each other and others who Christ is calling to himself.
Jesus was found amongst the poor and the outcasts. He longs for us to share his message amongst those previously considered unacceptable.
Jesus criticised the Jews for grumbling like their ancestors did in the wilderness. They were happy to grumble behind Jesus’ back but not willing to bring their complaints to him, face to face. They made Jesus the outsider. When they rejected Jesus’ teaching they were rejecting God.
Most of their ancestors died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Even Moses didn’t enter the Promised Land. This happened even though God had fed them with manna and quails.
Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father.”
Jesus was drawing the Jews to himself when he spoke, teaching them who he was and offering them eternal life which they rejected.
Christians in the past have used verses like this to defend their hatred of Jews. Anti Semitism is unacceptable. God still loves the Jews passionately and longs for them to come into a deeper relationship with him through Jesus. The Holy Spirit is working in their lives as well as ours.
Our coming to Christ is not merely something we initiate and choose. Jesus chose all of us when he died on the cross. He said, when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.” The Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to us, and convicts us of sin and judgement. We are special because our heavenly Father chose us.
Jesus is the only person who understands the truth about us, God and the world. We know a tiny part of it. Jesus is the only one who has come from God and seen the Father.
The arrogance and bigotry of leading Jews would eventually play a part in the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus didn’t blame them. The bread Jesus gives us, he says, is his flesh for the life of the world.
Jesus’ flesh was ripped to shreds as he was whipped, his brow was torn by the crown of thorns, his hands and feet were nailed to the cross and his side was pierced. Jesus willingly suffered and died. It was his gift to us, so that we might receive his eternal life. He was wounded for all of our transgressions, Isaiah 53 says.
Death did not defeat Jesus. Three days later he rose from the dead proving he truly is God’s Son. He promises that when we come to him we too will be raised us up on the Last Day.
Jesus’ request that we eat his flesh was offensive. It is one of the most controversial verses in the Bible. Catholics have taken this literally and believe we feast on the actual body of Christ at the Eucharist whilst Protestants have emphasised feeding on the word of God. Martyrs have suffered and died for both of these positions, particularly under the Tudor dynasty. Yes, Christians have killed each other to protect their narrow world views.
How we become one with Christ in his body the church is a mystery.
We receive Jesus every way we can, inviting him into our hearts and lives, reading his word and developing a relationship with him in prayer. We also receive him in Holy Communion. As we feast on Jesus we become one with him and one with each other.
We become like Jesus in his death and resurrection and like him will enter the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven.
To receive eternal life now so that we never die and are raised on our last day, we come to him, believe and take him into ourselves.
He longs to have a relationship with us and the whole world. When we become his body we become his gift of broken bread bringing life to his world, sharing his teaching and love.