Sunday’s Gospel (John 6:24-35) finds Jesus and his disciples in Capernaum. The crowd that he fed with loaves and fishes on the other side of the lake has been searching for him. Their search led them to Capernaum. “Rabbi, when did you come here?” they asked when they found him.
Jesus responded, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill yesterday. Do not work for the food that perishes. Work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God has set his seal.”
The Gospel of John repeatedly has Jesus giving a sign only to have his audience struggle to see beyond the sign to the thing signified. Here, he points his listeners beyond the meal of the evening before to the true, life-giving, heavenly Bread. Jesus wanted them to understand that there was more to him than acting as a kind of miraculous commissary, handing out bread to satisfy their physical hunger.
So, then, as if they hadn't had a sign the day before, they ask for a sign. They remind him of their ancestors who got bread from heaven as a sign from Moses in the wilderness. And, Jesus tells them that God has also sent bread from heaven to this generation. Only this time, the bread is different. The bread has a human face - HIS. And, even more, it doesn't perish the way the manna did. They ask him to give them this bread. And he does, telling them, “I am the bread of life.”
In what sense is Jesus is the true bread from heaven? There are several layers of meaning that will unfold as we continue the story from the sixth chapter of John over the next few Sundays. For now, in this particular passage, Jesus seems to be trying to make it clear that he is the life-giving Logos or Word as in the Prologue to this Gospel (“In the beginning was the Word ... “).
This Gospel's theological assumption is that the fundamental human appetite is for a word from God. Jesus, says our writer, not only speaks the word that proceeds from the mouth of God; Jesus is that Word. Jesus is not only the messenger; Jesus is that message. He is the Bread that is more than bread.
Some churches emphasize the irritable side of God and the nasty side of humanity. Our church emphasizes God's closeness and God's bountiful care for humanity. In our Baptism, God promises to be close to us and to care for us. In our pilgrimage as disciples of Jesus, we are going to experience getting lost, confused, scared, tired, angry, and hungry. God never promised us that our Baptism would insulate us from those experiences. But God promises when those things happen to us, God is going to be in the midst of those experiences, not causing them but caring for us and feeding us with the Bread of Life.
In Jesus, the messenger and the message are rolled into one loaf. Whoever lives in a relationship with him is baked into that same loaf and will find that the deepest hungers of their lives will be satisfied. Life comes with the message, the Living Bread, as a gift from God.
I’ll see you in Church!