By Sigrid Fowler
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says “I am–” an amazing number of times. I haven’t counted, but this choice of words and the things he said about himself are instructive, however many times he used those two words. “I am the bread of life”is a striking example. Reading these words, we probably thinkof the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist, as it’svariously called. We know what the Lord was talking about. That service has a significant place in our lives though it’s not easy to explain.
Jesus wasn’t talking to Christians when he said, “I am the bread of life.” There were no Christians yet, just Jesus and various types of followers, some hostile. Jesus is speaking to an odd crowd in this passage, and John 6, where we find the saying, is a breathtaking chapter. Jesus feeds a crowd of many more than five thousand with nothing but a few small loaves of barley bread, even fewer fish—a child’s lunch. When the crowd becomes a crown-him-king mob, he withdraws to the mountain, and his disciples get into a boat to set off for Capernaum. He goes out to them later, walking on the storm-driven water as they labor at the oars.
Pictured here is the one who “only doeth wondrous things,” as Psalm 136 puts it– the bread of heaven, sent by God to give life to the world. A credibility challenge? Only if you forget that John’s report is founded on a stubborn belief in the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of sinners, who can do anything he wants. God is flatly and simply identified by John as love (1 John 4: 8). His history with humankind, from the Garden to Golgotha and that other garden with its empty tomb, from the cross to the end of the Book, where he comes, King of King and Lord of lords–all these things affirm the truth of John’s assertion, “God is love.” Jesus himself, his love and redeeming power, fueled the work and brought usJohn’s gospel. It is Jesus, who gives us life, fires hope and expectation. That hope is huge.
The crowd he’s just fed crosses the lake in search ofJesus. They find him in Capernaum. A teaching follows, deep but put in simple terms—eating, drinking: “Don’t work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life,” he says and adds, “which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6: 27).
Food that “endures to eternal life”? This person has just turned a few rolls and fish into provisions for five thousand men plus families and friends. This extraordinary act of hospitality, his hosting a hungry crowd of thousands with next to nothing in groceries, settles it: These folks will listen. Food is the topic of the day. It’s Passover season, another occasion with food at its center. Jesus tells them, “You aren’t looking for me because of the signs [i.e., miracles] but because you filled up on barley loaves” (John 6: 26).
Perhaps stung by the implication that they just care about food, the questioners take a religious turn when they ask,“What do we do to do the works of God?” It’s one work, Jesus implies: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6: 29)
Aren’t they already believing? They wanted to crown him! So far, so good, they’re probably thinking. Jesus has noted their lack of interest in miraculous signs, so they return to his topic as if answering the charge: “What sign do you do so we can believe?” Then they bring up the manna their fathers ate in the wilderness, adding: “As it is written, he [Moses] gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6: 31).Okay, they’re saying, manna will do.
This seems just the place Jesus wants them. He says: “Not Moses . . . it was my Father who gives the true bread from heaven.” Then he tells them, “the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6: 33). Now they’re quick to say, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus responds: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Hear the invitation in the rest of what Jesus says: “ . . . all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. . .. This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6: 35, 37-40). One’s whole life can be communion.