Text: John 6:22-35
Date: Pentecost XI Proper 13B + 8/5/18
Do you say Luther’s Prayer Before Meals? It’s in the Small Catechism. You can see it now on page 327 in Lutheran Service Book. It begins by quoting Psalm 145. “The eyes of all look to You, [O Lord,] and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing;” then the little prayer, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” At first it looks like this prayer is only talking about food for the body. But notice the psalm says, “You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” Our desires include much more than for food but also things like those listed in the meaning of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” “a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” In a similar way the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel at first seems to only be talking about food for the body. But as we shall see Jesus uses the feeding of the 5,000 and the metaphor of food in a much deeper way.
Like a sermon today is always based on expounding some biblical text, so it is assumed that Jesus was preaching on the story of the manna from heaven of Exodus 16. He may have had in mind Psalm 78:24, “and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.” God gave His people manna to eat. Jesus gave the crowd food from just five barley loaves and two fish. The first issue is to identify God and Jesus as the giver.
The most important giving of God is stated in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” There would be nothing to believe in had God not first given it. Salvation and deliverance from sin and death centers in the only Son of God. As in the giving of manna after the exodus, we are to see a connection between Moses and Jesus, between the Word Moses delivered and that of Jesus.
Moses delivered the Ten Commandments and wrote the first five books of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Torah. He even spoke of the Lord “raising up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Dt 18:15). Jesus is that prophet like Moses. But He is more. For whereas Moses only gave the word he had first received from God, what do we read of Jesus? John even begins his gospel with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1-2). Moses received and delivered the Word. Jesus is the Word of God.
Jesus calls the manna “food that perishes,” but the Word of God “the food that endures to eternal life.” The most important sentence in this first section of the Bread of Life Discourse has to do with how we are to receive this gift of eternal life. Of course the crowd asks the typical question of everyone as people think a person is saved by what they do, by good works of the Law. They ask, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Maybe they were thinking of the Ten Commandments and all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament as the way to salvation. But what did we read in John 3:16? God gave his only Son, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is because it is by faith that we are saved that Jesus then turns the table revealing that the work of God is not something we do, but something God Himself does. “This is the work of God,” not your work, but “that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Saving faith is the work of God through His word in the heart of the penitent believer.
Faith is the work of God. It cannot be commanded. It can only be given, given by God and therefore only received, received by repentance and faith.
In our table prayer we said the psalm speaks of more than food for the body but of all the desires of the individual. So now Jesus returns to the issue of the manna, the bread from heaven, saying, “My Father gives you” not just bread but “the true bread from heaven.” Then He claims to be that bread “who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” That is to say Jesus is even more than the Word of God, the Word made flesh to dwell among us. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” This is the first of seven great “I AM” statements of Jesus, identifying Himself as the one, true God who revealed Himself to Moses with the name, “I AM.” This transition to speak about Himself as the Bread of Life is what sets us up for the deeper meaning of who He is and how we are to receive Him. In the second part of this Discourse, next Sunday we will discover the eucharistic implications, how we are to see receiving Him as He gives Himself under the forms of bread and wine to give us eternal life.