This week’s lectionary Gospel text (John 6:35, 41-51) starts with the same verse we ended with last week. Then, oddly, it skips four verses before continuing the story.
It is the middle week of a five-week-long revel in John 6, as Jesus discusses, debates, and disputes about manna from heaven and himself as the “Bread of Life.” Most weeks the assigned text overlaps little bits of the previous week.
As with most of Jesus’ long speeches in John, this one has much to meditate upon.
And as with most of these speeches, the topic flips and flops like a fish on a dock.
(If you’d like to see my children’s sermon on this passage, you can find it here.)
John 6:35, 41-51
Here’s the bullet point outline of this week’s portion:
- Jesus claims to be the bread of life.
- (Then we skip a bit.)
- The listeners complain about his claim to have come down from heaven (which was in the skipped bit), since they know his family.
- Jesus notes that only those drawn to him by the Father are going to get it.
- Jesus draws a big contrast between the old manna from heaven and himself.
- Eating manna only fed people for a day.
- Eating Jesus, the True Bread, leads to eternal life.
- Jesus says that the True Bread given for the world is his own flesh.
These topics do not form a tidy outline, nor does the conversation flow in a clear logical sequence.
Some of the connections and transitions are fascinating.
Drawn to Jesus, Not Choosing Jesus
For instance, consider what flows from the people’s complaint about Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven.
Jesus’ response is not about his neighborhood or his family, or even his claim to be the Bread of Life. Instead he focuses on the reason his opponents are not drawn to him in the first place.
No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me;” (John 6:44 NRSV)
It’s a text that gives clarity to assertions about predestination, as well as giving comfort to those whose evangelistic efforts fall flat.
Deciding about Jesus is not, strictly speaking, a matter of objective choice, or evaluation of evidence.
- Those who come to Jesus come because God has chosen to draw them.
- Those who don’t come to Jesus? Well, God must not be working that way in them.
Listening and Learning Really Matters
What I’ve never really focused on before is that Jesus takes the discussion a step further:
Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:45 NRSV)
At a glance it might sound like another slap on the cheek for those who haven’t come. But it sounds more to me like an opening.
- If someone is seeking God, seeking to listen and learn, then eventually they will get there.
- Listening and learning from God will, whether they know it or not, be coming to the one who is the Bread of Life, the True Bread that has come down from heaven.
I say this because this scene between Jesus and his opponents was not the opponents’ last day. Their stories went on. They continued to listen. They continued to learn.
We make a mistake when we assume everyone knows enough today about Jesus. Knowledge of the Word to whom we listen, the Truth which we must learn, comes gradually.
Personally I suspect most of us substantially misunderstand Jesus for a very long time, even if we we accept him. Rejecting him too comes from misunderstanding.
And we never understand him fully. There is an infinite amount of God, so no finite person can rightly claim to know it all.
And Trusting Is What Really Counts
We must hear more and learn more from God, and while we do so we have a clear charge: trust.
“…whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (John 6:47-48 NRSV)
- It is trusting, believing, that grows when we listen.
- It is trusting, believing, that grows when we learn.
- It is trusting, believing, that grows when we draw near.
So maybe… when we trust, when we believe, somehow we obtain the Bread of Life.
So How Do I Step Into Believing?
So where, O Lord, will we get this bread? I want to hear and learn. I believe it is you I need. Does it stay a metaphor or does it ever get at all concrete?
…the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51 NRSV)
Jesus’ flesh is the “bread” of which he speaks.
Jesus’ flesh is given for the life of the world. And we know that this happened most concretely. He went to the cross, giving his life, his very body and blood, for the life of the world.
But before he went there he had a feast with his friends. He took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them saying “This is my body, given for you.”
This conversation took place long before either the Last Supper or the Cross. But Jesus points us to both. His body is given for the life of the world. We receive it as bread.
My prayer for Christians this Sunday is that they will come to the Table. Come and receive the Bread of Life — receive Jesus.
In John 6:35 & 41-55 Jesus gave us a rich metaphor of the embrace of faith, coming to Jesus to listen, learn, and believe. We do it by eating the flesh he offers.
My Monday (sic) Meditations are my own reflections on the coming Sunday’s Gospel text assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary. I don’t claim to have gotten to the bottom of these texts, or to have done the definitive exegesis. This is just where the text takes me. Thanks for coming along.
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