John 6:35, 41-51
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.
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.”
It’s worth knowing that Jesus is mad today. It’s hard to tell from here – sitting like we do, in this time and place – so far removed from that moment with him, but it matters that he’s angry.
We’re listening in on a tense conversation – an argument, even, some might say – between Jesus and the Jews who have been following him, and challenging him, and questioning him for quite awhile now. One scholar, someone smarter than me, even suggested that when Jesus says, “do not complain among yourselves,” that what he really means is “shut up;” maybe, “quit your whining.”
And I always like to be reminded about that side of Jesus – the human, frustrate-able side of Jesus, I mean, who must have gotten mad more often than we hear about. Mad, here, because he’s trying to “bring the kingdom” to the people around him and they just don’t see it or get it or want it or know what that means. Mad because he’s been having this same conversation with “the crowds” and with “the Jews” who were following him for so long – for like 6 chapters and 51 verses, if the Gospel text is any kind of measuring stick for that sort of thing – and, after all this time, they’re still just bickering about the details.
Now, there’s kind of a joke, or maybe a lament, among preachers about this run of Gospel stories we’ve had the last few weeks – each of them about the “Bread from Heaven,” I mean. If you’ve been around, you know we’ve heard about the feeding of the five thousand a couple of times. Last week was an extension of that story – and a continuation on the theme. This week’s Gospel begins where last week’s ended, with the very same verse, even, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That’s some good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but I’m kind of bored with the same-old, same-old, re-run of it all.
So, I’ll come back to the Gospel in a minute but first, I hope we can have a little laugh.
Does any of that look familiar to anyone? Too familiar to some of you, maybe? It’s been longer ago for some of us than for others, but you remember, don’t you? “JUST EAT THE NOODLE!!!!!”
See, I kind of think Jesus is just trying to get the people to eat their theological vegetables this morning. And not even vegetables, of course, but the bread that came down from heaven, for crying out loud. And he had to be so frustrated and angry, and sad, I imagine, that they just didn’t get it, or want it, or understand it, or whatever.
See, what matters in all of this back and forth between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews is that it took place very near to the festival of the Passover, the great national and religious holiday for the Jewish people. The Passover was where they celebrated their release from slavery, their Exodus from Egypt, their journey toward the Promised Land. We know about how they grumbled against Jesus for not giving them signs like the ones their ancestors had received in the wilderness back in the days of Moses. The faithful in Jesus’ day complained that their ancestors got that miraculous manna in the wilderness – actual bread from heaven – and they thought they deserved – and so were looking for – something like that kind of a miraculous sign, too; to feed them, to fill them, to fix them, to SAVE them.
And now, along comes Jesus, claiming to be that bread from heaven. He’s claiming, not just that he was there to deliver the bread from heaven they were looking for, but that somehow he was, that he would be, that he is, this bread from heaven – this miracle – that gives life and hope and salvation to the world.
And since most of us know the rest of the story, we know how it ends – with Jesus crucified and raised to new life. And we can read this little bit of it all as a preview of sorts. Jesus was really hinting, if not declaring outright for those who could read between the lines – that he was the new Passover Lamb, come to take away the sin of the world.
Jesus … from Nazareth … this son of a carpenter, this boy born of a peasant girl – this neighbor kid whose parents they knew – was claiming to have come down from heaven with this monumental, holy task of giving up his life, in the flesh, for the sake of the world.
So, Jesus was messing with their tradition. Jesus was undoing what they had expected. Jesus was replacing the old with something new. And he was inviting them to live and believe differently because of it.
What Jesus has been up to with all of his talk about the bread of life and the bread from heaven, then; about eternal life and about giving his flesh for the sake of the world was about undoing everyone’s expectations for who God was, for how God could be, for what God might be up to in the world and for how their relationship with God was about to be utterly changed from anything they had known and everything they were used to.
Everything old was becoming new. Everything they were familiar with was changing. The very kingdom of God was, all of a sudden, alive and well and under their feet in a way they had never expected or experienced or believed was even possible. And what woulda, coulda, shoulda been a whole bunch of beautiful, hope-filled, life-changing news was, unfortunately, all being received with as much joy and gratitude as a plate full of brussels sprouts.
What Jesus was inviting people to see and to receive – what God is still calling us to – is to open ourselves to the new ways of God’s kingdom among us: things like grace and forgiveness; things like humility and generosity; things like peace and love for the “other” and love of our enemies.
And we’re not great at that, if we’re honest. So we get this bread from heaven, in Jesus Christ, who offers us forgiveness, who fills our hearts and minds and lives with the same kind of mercy, love and promise we’re meant to share. This bread from heaven is comfort food for the soul and nourishment for the journey. And this bread from heaven, like Jesus says, isn’t really bread – or brussels sprouts – or broccoli - after all.
It is the very life and death and resurrection of God, in Jesus Christ, broken and shared for you and for me. It is something altogether new and better and different. It changes everything. It redeems everything.
It is hard to believe. For some it’s hard to swallow. For too many, it’s difficult to share. But this bread from heaven, in Jesus Christ, feeds everyone… it fills everyone… it saves everything… redeems it all, by God’s grace and for the sake of the world.