[Jesus said] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
My mom has always told me that food is just sustenance for her to have energy to do the other things that she wants to do. I tend to think more of food than that, I enjoy eating my food and the company that is with me, but for mom it’s just a means to an end.
Sustenance is food and drink. Sustenance is considered a source of strength and nourishment. Sustenance keeps us alive, keeps us moving, keeps us growing, keeps us thriving. We cannot live without sustenance. The cells in our bodies require nourishment, vitamins and minerals to regenerate, renew and restore. Sustenance sustains life and livelihood.
The air we breathe is sustenance, but so are other things that we need not just to live but also to live a life worth living. Sunshine is sustenance. Food on our table and in our cupboards, the clothes on our back, money in our pocket are all sustenance as they provide access to things that we need. No less important is human interaction; touch, communication, laughter, a hug and a smile are all sustaining actions.
In our gospel text today, we come across Jesus having an interesting conversation about sustenance. To this point, in the Gospel of John, we have seen his first miracle, when the wedding reception would have ended in the host’s embarrassment…but Jesus steps in and transforms the situation by changing water into wine.
We have witnessed his encounter with the Samaritan woman collecting water at the well whom had isolated herself and others had shunned in judgement, when Jesus approaches the woman to ask her for a drink and then turns around to offer her a taste of his living water…so that she will thirst no more.
We have marveled as Jesus fed the 5000 (not including the women and children) from five loaves of bread and two fish, and somehow managed, after everyone’s hunger had been satisfied, to produce so much abundance that the leftovers were greater than the original meal.
Jesus has taught Nicodemus under the cover of night, healed the sick at Bethsaida, and even walked on water. And now Jesus has offered himself as sustenance for those who will receive him.
Jesus retreated after feeding the five thousand. That action fits a pattern.
He’d do something miraculous, the crowds would be amazed, and then Jesus would go off for some “me-time”–a staycay, a personal retreat, or just escape to be left alone for a moment. He’d leave them hanging. God’s timing, after all, is not our timing. And while Jesus entered into our time, he did it according to his own divine timing. That’s captured by the Greek understanding of kairos time, it’s not based on a calendar or a clock, but by the movement of God in the particular moment by God.
Our impatience may stem from looking at the clock or the calendar when we should be looking at God and for God. Scripture assures us in Isaiah “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) So Jesus, discerning that the people would get ahead of themselves and ahead of God’s time, would give them some breathing space. And, sometimes even though he was still near, he seemed far.
Don’t we experience times like that? Those moments when the urgency of the moment, of the need, of the circumstance weighs heavily…and it seems like God has left us hanging. Those are the moments when time seems to function differently and to move contrary to our desires.
I like what Isaiah said about renewing your strength, but it reminds us that waiting on God can at times be exhausting. At times, life seems to be a series of waiting on God in numerous ways when God does not appear to be concerned about our timing.
And, I need to confess for a moment:
- I get tired of waiting. I get tired of praying for the same thing.
- I get tired of disappointments.
- I get tired of two steps forward, ten back.
- I get tired of doubting that change is going to come.
Maybe it’s just my personal confession, but sometimes I get tired of the wait. I’m tired of looking in a mirror dimly, not seeing the fullness of the plan, all the while knowing that God is calling, expecting, and compelling me to be faithful to the plan. Sometimes, I don’t want to wait for the unfolding plan, I just want to see the end.
It’s hard to remain in the right and righteous state of mind when you have questions.
- When will the struggle before you ever end?
- When will love overcome hate?
- When will justice roll down like water?
- When will the arc of justice reach its intended position?
- When will the kingdom come and God’s will be done?
It’s natural to have questions.
So, when we read this text we need to remember that the people had been waiting centuries for their Messiah. Yet, every time Jesus showed them some sign, he also pulled back in some manner. So they search for him after he retreats. When they find him, as we have heard in previous weeks, they ask, “When did you come here?” He’d gone across the sea. And he responds, ““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.” In other words, they were still caught up in temporal things when Jesus is most concerned about things eternal.
Does that mean that Christ doesn’t care or doesn’t move or doesn’t see the temporal? No, otherwise he wouldn’t have directed them to feed the five thousand. There’s no indication the people were starving. They were probably hungry, but they weren’t going to die if one meal was delayed or even missed, but they would experience a different perishing without the sustenance Jesus Christ, bread of heaven, could provide.
The truth is that Jesus offers life that joins the temporal and the eternal. That was the life of Christ and is the life in Christ. Jesus enters into creation at the center—at the intersection of heaven and earth. It’s no coincidence that Jesus teaches us to pray for the kindom to come on earth as it is in heaven. But the most remarkable thing is that Jesus is the actual fulfillment of that prayer as the bread that comes down from heaven.
Jesus is the messenger from heaven but he’s also the message. He bears the good news and he is the good news. Jesus is the One who was glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration and he’s the Person who wept at the death of his friend. Jesus is God and Jesus was a human being. Our restoration comes at this intersection as hope and glory become flesh and blood.
This is part of the central message of John’s Gospel as it responded to a rising belief in the church that Jesus was just a really great man. A new human being who was all that the first human being was created to be but still just a man. It’s understandable that they’d begin to think that way. It’s so improbable, according to our own understanding, that God would strip down God’s power and majesty in order to be like us.
We’re supposed to strive to be like God, why would God take on this form? Why would God subject Godself to the needs of the flesh, food and water, exercise and sleep, walking, working, making a living…learning a trade and memorizing the Torah? We think that if the situation were reversed, would we not consider it beneath us to be born, to be a baby with parents telling us what to do, to become an adult and to minister to a hard hearted people not having a place to lay his head, with dusty sandals on his feet and coarse clothing on his back?
What would make the Creator of the Universe decide to live this life for us? Who is this God who doesn’t condemn us but demonstrates compassion and care for us even when we fail to extend that same love towards our neighbors? Who is this Jesus who comes to us, meets us, keeps us and sustains us?
Jesus tells us in his own words that he is the Living Bread. Our job, our role, our responsibility, is to take Christ in so that we can be transformed. I am reminded of the expression, “You are what you eat.” That old adage referred to a physical reality, but Jesus informs us that it also has a spiritual dimension.
There’s so much negativity and injustice in the world. We take in so much, through popular culture and even interactions with one another that competes with the good news in Jesus Christ. It can be so easy to fall into patterns of behaving and being and thinking that are more of this world than the world that Christ calls us to help recreate and restore and renew.
God’s plan embodies a kingdom where there is abundance and no lack, so even though we live in a world that encourages us to strive for our own good, we must embrace generosity and the common good.
God is love so we have to love those who aren’t particularly loveable. Jesus has commissioned us to be witnesses to the end of the earth and co-labors in the pursuit of God’s justice and peace.
We who know Christ and claim Christ and love Christ need to be like Christ, and the only way we can do that is by taking Jesus in. “This is the bread that came down from heaven.” This is sustenance for our lives. The living water and our daily bread.