I woke this morning to the smell of freshly baked bread.
Ah, how wonderful is that!
Bob’s my baker, he loads the bread-maker the night before and knows how to set the timer so we can enjoy fresh bread for breakfast. And I know how lucky I am. The staff of life, bread, has become a real pleasure for us rather than a basic necessity. We also know that many people in our world go hungry and we are really privileged to have good food.
In the gospel story Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life” … And what’s more, today, we have heard how he takes this idea one stage further suggesting that people are to eat his flesh and blood.
That’s an odd thing to say. The people at the time were baffled, I’m a bit baffled too. Throughout chapter 6 of John’s gospel, Jesus seems to have this thing about bread, I’m tempted to say, he was on a roll.
Was Jesus really bread and what’s all this “bread of life” how is that different from ordinary bread, from the bread I ate this morning? And eating anyone’s flesh and blood – that’s gross. I expect we have got our own opinions about what Jesus meant and no doubt the people who witnessed that at the time were equally divided in their thoughts. It was too much for some, they left Jesus (oh oh, spoiler alert, that comes next week in the readings: John 6.66 – look out for it!)
So, enough of what is to come, let’s go back to the beginning: if you were in church for the first of this series of readings – oh about the end of July some time … or perhaps you have been avidly reading your lectionary, you might remember that John’s gospel chapter 6 opens with the story of the feeding of the 5000.
Miracles are fixed in time. For us, it’s 2000 years ago. For the people in Jesus’ time it might have been a few days ago. They had a party, had plenty to eat and didn’t have to work for it – hey! Let’s do it again, what we need is another miracle.
Wait a moment: feeding 5000? There aren’t 5000 people in this part of Galilee. Who counted?
But we all had some fish and bread to eat … Oh yes, really … did nobody but a small boy actually bother to think about bringing a picnic? And what about that small boy? What was he doing all by himself? Where’s his mum and dad?
Come on Jesus! Give us more bread, fresh toast, with butter and marmalade this time please, I don’t like fish. Why don’t you stay here with us, you could be our baker. Oh and when we are poorly, perhaps you could do some healing miracles for us. And we don’t really like the Romans, we have to pay taxes to them, it would be much better if you would hurry up and get rid of them so we can live happily here. Come on Jesus, get a move on!
Oh dear, was this what God had in mind?
Jesus has mentioned bread before. When he was tempted in the wilderness, before he started his ministry proper. Do you remember, Jesus has been fasting for 40 days when the devil tempts him saying that if he is the son of God, he could turn the stones into bread. What does Jesus reply?
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
That comes from Matthew 4.4. But being a keen student at the moment, I looked up where Jesus had got the quotation from: Deuteronomy 8.3. Oh I could tell you a thing or two about Deuteronomy, but I’ll spare you and just give a brief résumé: the book reminds the Jewish people of their origins including how they were brought safely out of slavery in Egypt and given manna to eat in the wilderness. Clearly, the people in John’s gospel knew that story very well because they ask Jesus for similar proof. You can’t argue with manna, it falls from heaven, no one knows what it is and how it gets there so it must be a sign from God. And it comes in handy if you are hungry and in the wilderness.
God provided manna in the wilderness and the people were saved from starvation. They went on to live out their lives and die. So what’s Jesus offering? True and living bread, his very essence, his flesh and blood which we remember in the Eucharist.
We keep coming back to food. Bread, even if it is in the form of manna. Come on God, we can’t think on an empty stomach. “Give us this day our daily bread!” And Jesus seems to be saying, yes, humans need food to live, to keep from starvation, but we need more than that, we hunger for the word of God in our lives.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What are we really looking for?
Isn’t it time we woke up and smelt the true bread of life?