114-365 (Year 6 Bread)
Creative Commons image by George Redgrave on Flickr
#DoItForJohn. A hashtag suggestion by a Facebook friend in response to last week’s column when I invited you to abide in all of John 6. Not letting go. Not bailing on the Bread of Life, but staying with it, doing the hard work of exegesis, sticking with this chapter for the five weeks assigned by the Lectionary. Thus, the hashtag -- if you don’t do it for the Lectionary, do it for John.
We have now moved into the dialogue and discourse portion of how John structures his signs. Hopefully you have already read through the entire chapter, which is essential looking forward but also because the whole dialogue/discourse is a looking back to the sign itself.
I promised that we would do the work of exegesis together, not just for the sake of respect for the text, but also for the sake of John’s conviction that exegesis leads to the leading out of God for us to taste, see, hear, smell, and touch. And wow, if we aren’t able to taste God after these five weeks, well, we are not preaching John.
Let’s start with a comparison between this stage of the dialogue/discourse in John 6 and Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Because conversation matters. Dialogue matters. And there’s a sermon right there. Conversation matters for a life of faith. It matters so as to talk about our theological reactions to yet another shooting when too much talk about guns is silenced. It matters because things of faith cannot be easy acquiescence. Jesus knows this, which is why there are so many verses devoted to dialogue and discourse around a claim we could easily overlook -- I AM the bread of life. It matters because if we ever think that the incarnation is something “get” right away, we’ve missed its meaning altogether. This is going to take some talking out.
Like the Samaritan woman at the well, the crowd recognizes that Jesus has something that they need, yet only after an initial conversation with Jesus (6:34; see 4:15), “Sir (Lord), give us this bread always.” They really have no idea what they are asking for at this point which is why Jesus has to continue the dialogue and continue interpreting the sign. They have made the connection to what they already know about miraculous feedings -- the stories their ancestors told of the wanderings in the wilderness being fed by manna from heaven. The Samaritan woman at the well also makes the link to ancestry, “who do you think you are? Greater than Jacob, whose well you are sitting on right this minute?” (4:12). These interchanges are demonstrative of what our faith tends to be. We fall back on what we know, what we’ve learned, the tales we’ve been told. But for the woman at the well and the crowd once seated in the grass, Jesus needs them to see that in the Word made flesh God is up to something new. For us, Jesus needs us to see that this was no “ordinary” miracle, as if a miracle can ever be ordinary. Yet, when it comes to Jesus, we tend to make the miracles rather commonplace, even predictable. “Oh yeah, feeding the 5000, walking on water, water into wine, whatever. Regular Jesus stuff. That’s why I believe.” But in John, that is not why we believe. The signs are not the reason for believing but the beginning of believing. Jesus is just getting started. This is why John 6:35 is pivotal -- “I AM the bread of life.” We want this bread. But Jesus says I AM this bread. And what it means that Jesus is the bread of life will take a lot of getting used to.
In fact, the request of the crowd seems to suggest that they may not have heard some important distinctions Jesus makes between the bread story they know from their past and what God just did in their present.
Jesus clarifies -- the source of the bread from heaven, even in the wilderness, was not Moses but “my father.” The first person singular possessive pronoun, not “our” or “your” father, connects Jesus with God. The second alteration Jesus makes to the crowd’s confession is to add the adjective “true” to bread, thereby distinguishing himself from the manna in the wilderness. Verse 33 provides even more specificity about the bread from heaven, that it is the “bread of God,” not of Moses. God was and is the source of the bread from heaven and this bread gives life to the world -- John 3:16 anyone?
Did you catch all of that? Clearly, the crowd didn’t, which why Jesus seeks to move the conversation forward with his first “I AM” statement with a predicate nominative in the Gospel (6:35; 6:51; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25-26; 14:6; 15:1, 5). That the first predicate nominative “I AM” statement is connected to that which is needed to sustain life underscores the intimately incarnational claim of this Gospel, that a relationship with Jesus, believing in Jesus will mean that everything necessary for nourishment will be provided by God. There’s another sermon. This first “I AM” statement can be interpreted metaphorically and we have a truckload of sermons to prove it. Yet, there has to be a literal component in any interpretation of Jesus as the bread of life for the truth of the incarnation to have its full impact.
And finally, a few more exegetical notes. One who believes in Jesus will never be hungry or thirsty. Jesus revealed to the woman at the well that he is the source of living water. Water was also provided for the Israelites by Moses striking the rock at Horeb as God commanded (Exodus 17:1-7). That which God provided for God’s people, bread and water, Jesus now offers to the crowd. Jesus is able to give what God is able to give -- sustenance for life. What might that mean?
And that’s only week number two.