Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6: 24-35
I think most people would agree that the very basic necessities for a human body to survive are water, food and shelter. These are the physical necessities for survival. And, because we have our mind, as a religious person I would say that we need also to have belief or hope that give a purpose to our being. Today’s readings all have to do with these three things. And they all lead to the prayer that Jesus taught us; “Give us today our daily bread.” This is a request to God to supply us with the necessities of life. The apostle Paul says; “There is one body and one Spirit”, and the readings today teach us how to feed our bodies and our Spirits.
Give us today our daily bread. I must admit sometimes when I say those words, I fall into a trap. I pray along just with one level of thought, that of physical food. Please Lord, I think, I hope you will give me enough physical food today. Of course, then I remember our Gospel passage with Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life.” And I realize that when the Lord gives us our daily bread, he is not just filling my stomach. He is inviting me on a spiritual voyage to eternity. When I think only of physical food, I am following what the old Israelites did when they complained to Moses because they were hungry.
Indeed, they were hungry, they had no permanent shelter, and their faith was shaky. So shaky they begin to think that slavery in Egypt was perhaps not such a bad thing. They think Moses has led them out to the desert to kill them. Luckily, the Lord hears their complaint and God tells Moses; “I am going to rain bread down from heaven for you.” God shows God’s own self in a cloud and his people are saved. I love the line in our Psalm today that says; “So mortals ate the bread of angels.”
Today’s Gospel takes this miracle of the manna in the desert to a whole new level. It takes place almost directly after the disciples have seen the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. And Jesus seems upset with them. He feels that that they are searching for the wrong things. Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” I expect that these words take the disciples by surprise. For Jesus is inviting them and the crowd to stop worrying about their stomachs and to start thinking about their relationship with God. He urges them to move from material things to spiritual matters. This is Jesus’ invitation for everyone to join his spiritual journey.
With Jesus’ words suddenly the crowd is curious, so they ask Jesus “What must we do to perform the works (plural) of God?” Note that the crowd, familiar with the Law, “To love God and love your neighbour as yourself’” and now they want to know the many works they must do in order to fulfill the Law so they might honour God.
Jesus answers them saying, “This is the work (Greek: ergon — singular) of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Note that Jesus does not say “works” but says “work” in the singular. He emphasizes that only one thing need be done, and that is to “believe in him whom (God) has sent.”
This is a radical departure for this crowd. They think of Jesus as a holy man and perhaps a prophet, but they do not yet understand that he is the Son of God. So they demand assurance that Jesus has authority to advocate such a sweeping departure from their traditional religious practice. They want a sign, another miracle, to authenticate him as God’s son.
This seems silly as they had just seen the feeding of the 5000. What else should they need? Nonetheless, they request another sign. So they ask him: “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
Jesus, using the example of the manna, answers them “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
In this short answer, Jesus spells out for the crowd exactly the difference between following the law and beginning a true spiritual voyage with God.
He tells them it was God, not Moses, who gave the manna. It is God who created the miracle of the manna. As such, the manna itself was not the true bread from heaven (v. 32), it is God’s own self who is the true bread. It is God who feeds you, body and soul.
And God does not feed you and then forget you. God continues to feed and feed and feed you. Jesus says; “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven”. Note the present tense. Yes, it is the Father who “gives” and will always continue to give
For the bread from heaven, God’s true bread is incarnational. That is in keeping with the Prologue of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:1, 14). God’s bread of life is Jesus.
So, not only does the bread from heaven sustain people, it gives them life. The manna might sustain physical life, but the true bread of God gives eternal life (see 3:16). As such you are invited onto a spiritual voyage with God that never ends, for everyone who believes in God will have eternal life.
Finally the scope of this life-giving bread is broad, embracing the whole world (v. 33; 3:16). Manna gave life to the Israelites, but only temporarily. The true bread of life gives eternal life — and gives it to the whole world — not just to Israel.
Well, what a response Jesus has given. And the people have been listening very carefully to every word. And the Holy Spirit has been at work. For as Jesus finishes speaking, there is a heartfelt response from the crowd. They say “Sir, give us this bread always.” “Sir, give us this bread always.” Their hearts and minds have now been opened, they realize their deepest desire is for eternal life. “Sir, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus, hearing the longing in their hearts, can only say; “I am (Greek: ego eimi) the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I hope that when you pray Give us today our daily bread you will realize that Jesus is going to feed you in every way, physically and spiritually, for every day, unto eternity.
Thanks be to God.