Text: John 6:22-35
Date: Pentecost X + Proper 13B + 8/2/15
We have been following Jesus in Mark’s Gospel as the crowds followed Him around the Sea of Galilee. The people witnessed our Lord healing many sick people. While He taught them many things He also miraculously fed the 5,000 from just a few loaves of bread and some fish. Then we heard about Jesus walking on the sea to His distressed disciples and finally arriving on the other shore. St. John in his Gospel relates those same things but today he fills in some further words and teaching of Jesus to those who were following Him that are not mentioned in the other accounts.
Jesus has the crowds and us with them to stop; to stop and ask why they and why we are seeking Jesus. What were they, what are we looking for? For the next three weeks we will be hearing our Lord’s “Bread of Life” discourse. Today we are to discover what our true, real and deepest need is. Then our Lord will draw us closer to Himself as the true, real and deepest answer to our need.
We habitually confuse what we think we need with what are actually only wants or desires. We need food, shelter, clothing and health. However, we may want steak or lobster, a bigger house or condo, the latest threads and a reduced or normal Body Mass Index. Following the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 today Jesus stops them and speaks in a way to help them discern what they all truly need. “You’re seeking me…because you ate your fill of the loaves” He says. They were following Jesus as a bread king. John tells us that after He fed them the people said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” But then, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (Jn 6:14-15). They drew the wrong conclusion. They had the wrong idea both about Jesus and what their true, real and deepest need really was.
So, using the metaphor of bread and food Jesus lifts our eyes to the higher, spiritual but never-the-less real plain, saying, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” What is this food that endures to eternal life?
First of all Jesus uses the word “labor” or “work.” To our sinful, dead and blind fallen nature this sounds right. We think we need to do something, work for this food, for this eternal life. And, indeed, Jesus is talking about something we are to do. But it is not a list of works. We with these people then ask Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” With one simple sentence Jesus reveals how the Gospel of God turns everything around, everything “right side up” we might say from our upside down spiritual confusion. “This is the work of God,” He answers, “that you believe in him whom He has sent.” In other words the labor or work to which we are invited in order to find, grasp and eat the “food that endures to eternal life,” that labor or work is nothing else but faith. But faith is not something we can come up with on our own. Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord. Faith, then, is literally the work of God, that is, God’s working and act and gift which He creates in a person’s heart, soul and mind. And He does that work, He operates by means of His Word and Sacraments. Yet, in the same way, faith, that is, saying “I believe,” is something, nevertheless, that we have and we do.
The crowd had just “yesterday” feasted abundantly on the bread that Jesus gave them. This brought to mind, and maybe even made them feel like they were repeating the ancient history of which we heard in our first reading today, the “bread from heaven” God provided in the desert which the people called “manna.” Still not perceiving Jesus accurately they demand some miraculous sign on the level of Moses. But Jesus reminds them, “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” The greater question, Jesus says, is what bread from heaven He’s talking about. The bread from heaven God gave in Moses’ time was merely food for the body, only enough for each day and then it perished, disappeared. This bread Jesus is talking about is not a grocery item for the body. This bread is a Person! “For the bread of God is He, He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And then He says in no uncertain terms, “I AM the bread of life.”
Here Jesus reveals His divine nature and origin as having come down from heaven. Remember when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, saying, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world” (Jn 18:37). So we confess in the creed, “He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” He came down from heaven to give life to the world. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22). But salvation is not for the Jews only. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16), that is, to the whole world.
With one, final, majestic sentence Jesus claims and reveals that He is God with His famous “I AM” statement, saying, “I AM the bread of life.” He is the great I AM, the same God who first gave this, His name, to Moses at his calling. Now, he says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He is that bread that gives eternal life. When He says, “whoever comes to me” it means the same thing as “whoever believes in me.” Coming to Christ by faith is the work of God for your life, your real and deepest need of deliverance from sin and death, and for the life of the whole world.