August 8, 2021
Sunday between August 7 and August 13 inclusive
Proper 14, Ordinary Time 19
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 6:35, 41-51 The Message or John 6:35, 41-51, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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With this lesson, we begin with the first of the seven great "I AM" statements in John:
I am the bread of life
And we also begin the first of three weeks of attempting to faithfully decipher, understand, make sense of, and find the Good News in the last 28 verses of this Chapter 6.
As always with John, the key is to NOT get lost in the repetition of words and phrases; but rather to use them like bread crumbs left to mark a clear path through a dark wood. The dark wood is the dull imagination of our earthly flesh and blood that is perishable. The clear path is Jesus who reveals life that is imperishable.
There are 3 sets of key words - each word of which illuminates the others:
- Bread, flesh, life, heaven, truth, eternal, forever (contrasted with: manna, wilderness, death).
- Eat, believe, come, see, hear, learn.
- Come down, raise up, send, draw, give.
And in all of these, notice that it is the Father who is the source.
When Jesus says, "I am the bread of life," all of his hearers would know that bread IS life. Malina and Rohrbaugh note that 50% of the daily calories for non-elite people were from bread. (Page 133, see footnote below.) Jesus is not the bread roll on the side plate of life.
But the whole point of this passage is that while earthly bread nourishes earthly life (all of which will pass away), Jesus has been sent so that we might come / see / hear / learn / trust / eat the bread from heaven / the true bread that gives eternal life.
Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke who begin with a heavenly spirit descending on Jesus like a dove; John wants us to SEE that Jesus himself crosses back and forth between the heavenly realm and this earthly one.
John does NOT mean that Jesus' earthly body crosses between these realms. The only modern day parallels that I can think of are what we call an out-of-body experience; a mystical or ecstatic experience; a really real experience of God's presence; a visitation.
Don't get stuck on the up-down language. Heaven is not literally located "up there." But do get stuck on the idea that there is more to life than the flesh and blood eye can see; that there is more to life than bread which perishes and flesh and blood that dies.
And if the Judean elite thought they had something to murmur about in Verse 41 (about bread which came down from heaven), Jesus ups the ante in Verse 51:
and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.
Aside: Malina and Rohrbaugh state that the use of "Jews" in John is a mis-translation of the underlying Greek text. It should be more accurately translated as "Judeans." That is what the Greek word actually means. And that translation better highlights the real-world tension between the country bumpkin Galilean, Jesus, and his peasant followers. Especially since the Judeans in question are from the elite. This question of the status difference between Jesus the Judeans is what is being highlighted in Verse 42:
Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?
This question needs to be read with a mocking sneer, and punctuated by spitting on the ground at the end.
For us Protestants, (and all vegetarians) the passage ends on a yucky, cannibalistic note: flesh.
We'll be dealing with this in more detail next week, but for now it is important to stress one more time that John is fighting against the tendency then, as now, to believe ABOUT Jesus, instead of to believe INTO Jesus, to trust Jesus with our whole hearts.
John is stressing the importance of our relationship with Jesus. John does not just want us to believe Jesus; John wants us to bond with Jesus; to trust Jesus; to be loyal to Jesus. John wants us to eat Jesus.
And as I said at the outset, it is important for us to be as metaphorical with "eat," as we are with "bond," "trust," and "be loyal;" and to be as literal with "bond," "trust," and "be loyal" as we are with "eat." John deliberately uses these words inter-changeably so that we might hear / see / learn / trust how they illuminate and transform each other.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 132-136; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
John 6:35, 41-51 (NRSV)
35 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.
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42 They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" 43 Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 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."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 6:35, 41-51 (The Message)
35 Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.
41 At this, because he said, "I am the Bread that came down from heaven," the Jews started arguing over him: 42 "Isn't this the son of Joseph? Don't we know his father? Don't we know his mother? How can he now say, 'I came down out of heaven' and expect anyone to believe him?"
43 Jesus said, "Don't bicker among yourselves over me. 44 You're not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that's the only way you'll ever come. Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. 45 This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, 'And then they will all be personally taught by God.' Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father. 46 No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me.
47 "I'm telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. 48 I am the Bread of Life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. 50 But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. 51 I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.