Gospel: John 6:24-35
Then and Now
Are you a "news hound?" Do you like to watch new talk shows or listen to political debate? Do you like to engage others in discussions of politics? Why?
In these uncertain times, many people find comfort in a world view that divides people into opposing camps. Us vs. them. Conservative vs. liberal. Those on the right concern themselves with preserving timeless, almost eternal values to enrich life today. Those on the left desire to liberate the oppressed from the prejudices of the past and give them their just due. So, the political and cultural fault lines are drawn. The past is a sure guidepost to the present. The present is the moment to free us and ensure a glorious future. This might be a crass way to see the world. But, it makes for interesting politics and boosts ratings for cable news networks.
Once in a while, dwelling in the past does fog our openness to what confronts us. Spirituality is more than cherishing tradition. This was the message Jesus gave to his audience: "Don't merely look to the past for answers. Look to me!"
Jesus fed five thousand people with bread and fish. The next day, Jesus and his followers returned home.
24-25 When the people realized that Jesus and his followers were not there, they got into small boats and sailed across the lake to Capernaum to see Jesus. When they found him, they asked, "Teacher, when did you get here?"
26 "Listen!" Jesus replied. "You didn't look for me because you just saw a sign from God. No, you came because you filled your bellies on the bread I served you. 27 Don't work for bread that will spoil. Work for the Bread of Eternal Life that the Son of Man will give you. The Father has blessed him and how he serves people."
28 "What can we do to so we can obey God's will?" they asked.
29 "Trust the One God sent," Jesus answered. "This is what God really wants."
30 "What will you do?" they demanded. "Give us a sign from God that we can see. Then we will believe in you. 31 After all, our ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert, just like the passage in the Bible that says, 'He will give you bread from heaven to eat.'"
32 "You really don't understand, do you?" Jesus replied. "It wasn't Moses who gave you bread from heaven. It is the Father who gives you the only Bread that really matters. 33 The Bread God gives is the One that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world!"
34 "Give us this bread forever," they said to Jesus.
35 "I Am the Bread of Life!" Jesus stated. "Whoever comes to me will never ever get hungry again. Whoever trusts me will never, never ever get thirsty again."
John's opening to the discourse on the Bread of Life can be divided into three sections: the reflection on bread given by Jesus, the controversy over doing the works of God, and the revelation of Jesus as the Bread of Life.
24 When the crowd saw that JESUS nor his disciples were there, (they) entered small boats and (they) went to Capernaum, seeking JESUS. 25 Having found HIM across the lake, they said to HIM, "Rabbi, when did you happen (to arrive) here?" 26 JESUS answered and said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you did not seek me (out) because you saw signs (of the Kingdom), but because you ate from the bread and (you) were satisfied. 27 Work not for the food, the (substance) spoiling, but (work) for the food remaining into eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For this (ONE) the Father has sealed."
6:25 "lake" is literally "sea." The so-called "Sea of Galilee" is actually a fresh water lake, not a body of salt water.
6:27 "For this (ONE) the Father has sealed." God the Father placed his seal of approval on his Son. But, what did the seal mean? Two possibilities arise: God approved of his Son's power or his ministry. The first is internal and inherent; God approved of Jesus because of his status as Son and because of their relationship (i.e., "who" Jesus was). The second meaning is external; God approved of Jesus' activity among people that culminated in his death and resurrection (i.e., "what" Jesus did). Of course, these are two sides to the same reality. But the emphasis in meaning can affect the translation.
After the sign of the loaves and fishes, John began the discourse on the Bread of Life that will last in the readings for the next four Sundays. In typical Johannine fashion, the dialogue worked on two levels, 1) between Jesus and his audience and 2) between John's community and the synagogues influenced by the Pharisees. In the case of the level two, there was a tug-of-war between a spirituality focused on the present and one focused on the past. Between one centered on the activity of God now, and one concerned primarily about God's action in the history. Between presence and tradition . Of course, God's action in the past and the present cannot be separated. But the feeble minds of people needed a hook, a vantage point to see God working. Time was a perfect starting point.
The crowd that was fed sought Jesus for more satisfaction. If Jesus fed them once, he would feed them again. With bread. With preaching about the Kingdom. With insight. With signs of God's power. But, Kingdom was not about personal satisfaction. It was about faith in Jesus. The crowd focused upon what they could get from Jesus. Not what they could give to Jesus.
This difference between take vs. give set up the tension and misunderstanding in the passage. The bread the people received would spoil. But, the Bread that gave eternal life stood before them. This man, this Jesus, was the One God placed his seal of approval upon. God empowered his Son and his Son's ministry.
28 They said to HIM, "What should we do so that we can perform the works of God?" 29 JESUS answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you might believe in WHOM that (one) sent." 30 They said to HIM, "So, what sign (will) YOU (give), that we might see and believe in YOU? What (will) YOU do? 31 Our fathers ate manna in the desert, just as it has been written, 'he will give them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 JESUS said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you; Moses has not given you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the (only) true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the (ONE) coming down from heaven and giving life to the world."
6:29 "that (one) sent" "That (one)" is God the Father.
6:31 "he will give them bread from heaven to eat." The exact verse from the Hebrew Scriptures is not known. It could be a vague reference to Psalm 78:24 and 105:40.
6:33 "(ONE) coming down from heaven and giving life to the world" Without a clear pronoun for ONE, that which comes down from heaven could refer to bread or Jesus himself. The crowd interpreted the heavenly reality as "bread." But Jesus used it as a reference to himself in 6:35.
The people had no problem seeing Jesus as a teacher of the Law. God had blessed many men as religious leaders. And they were ready to hear a populist teacher, not one from the untrusted Establishment. The question they asked was a standard one about the Law. The "works of God" were either duties from the commands found in the Torah or religious prescriptions from an interpretation of the Law. "What can we do?" With this question, the people sought a trustworthy road to travel that was different from the Pharisees. It was a road based upon the activity of God in the past.
Jesus must have shocked them with his answer. "Trust me! Now!"
The people demanded a sign. Giving bread was not enough. For their ancestors received manna in the desert from Moses. What would Jesus give them?
Jesus corrected their thinking. It was not Moses who gave them bread. It was God. And the bread God gave was not for the Exodus community at the birth of the nation. It was for the audience of Jesus. Now! It came down from heaven. And would give life to the entire world, not just the complaining tribes of Israel back then in the desert. Now!
34 They said to HIM, "LORD, always give us this bread." 35 JESUS said to them, "I AM the bread of life! The (person) approaching ME will certainly never hunger and the (person) believing in me will certainly never ever thirst."
6:35 "The (person) approaching ME will certainly never hunger and the (person) believing in me will certainly never ever thirst." The two clauses that make up this sentence have double negatives ("not never") which have been translated "certainly never." The last clause added the word "ever" for added emphasis.
The people still wanted to be fed. They understood the import of Jesus' correction. But, were they ready to hear what he would present to them?
"I AM the Bread of Life!" Jesus' answer must have shocked them (again!) in two ways. First, Jesus used the phrase "I AM," buzz words in John's gospel that equated Jesus with God. He used shorthand for YHWH, the title God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14: "I am who am."
Second, Jesus did not say he would give them bread. He stated that, in his divinity, HE was the Bread of Life. To feed from him, people would have to come and to trust him. Then, they would be truly satisfied.
For John's audience, of course, only the Christian community held up the Christ as one to be worshiped as God. So, the only way to come and trust was through that community. This was the challenge Christianity lay before its Jewish competitors. The activity of God was present in the community, because the Christ was present. While what God did was important, what God was doing now was more important.
How is God active in your life now? How does the Bible and tradition help that insight?
Did Jesus really think the past was unimportant? Should we? The answer to both is: "Of course not!" Jesus did not come to reject tradition. He came to change the focus of God's people. From the Law. To himself. He challenges us in the same way. He is not only the Lord who died and rose two thousand years ago. And gave us a Church with a deep and long tradition. No! He is our Lord! Now! He chides and challenges us to come to him and trust in him. To see him work in our lives and the lives of those around us.
As important as tradition is (and it is!), the spiritual sight to realize the presence of God is far more important. Let us open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. Let us go and trust. Now!
Quiet your mind and heart to the presence of God. What is he telling you? How is he beckoning you closer right now?