“I am the bread of life” John 6:48
The word “life” provides us with four letters with which to think about the Gospel reading.
“L” for “listen”. The people in the story listen to Jesus and are not happy at what they hear, Saint John Chapter 6 Verse 41 tells us, “Then the Jews began to complain about him.” One wonders if they were really prepared to listen to all that Jesus might say, or if they simply wanted to find words with which to disagree. It seems they had already made up their minds about Jesus, rather than respond to Jesus’ teaching, they instead resort to personal comments, in Verse 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’?” Jesus is not drawn into arguments about personalities, he refuses to engage with his critics at their level, instead he says, in Verse 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.” If those complaining about Jesus had really listened, they would have heard and learned from God, but they were determined not to hear what was being said.
Are we like the people who complained about Jesus? Do we listen to all that we should hear, or are we selective, listening only to those things that fit in with what we think? When we are troubled by something that has been said, do we think about it, or do we instead try to find fault with the person who has spoken to us? Listening should challenge us; if we are to hear what God says, we have to listen.
“I”, the second letter of “life,” reminds us that Jesus says, “I am”. In Verses 35 and 48, he says, “I am the bread of life” and in Verse 41, he says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” There are seven occasions in Saint John’s Gospel where Jesus says “I am,” seven times where Jesus says he is preaching about himself. “I am the bread of life” is followed by “I am the light of the world,” in Saint John Chapter 8 Verse 12; “I am the gate,” in Saint John Chapter 10 Verse 9, “I am the good shepherd,” in Verse 11 of the same chapter; “I am the resurrection and the life,” in Saint John Chapter 11 Verse 25; “I am the way, the truth and the life,” in Saint John Chapter 14 Verse 6; and, finally, “I am the vine”, in Saint John Chapter 15 Verse 5. These sayings were challenging to Jesus’ listeners, he was saying that faith was something focused on himself, it was not faith in a religion, it was faith in a person.
Sometimes, as Christians, we make the mistake in treating our faith as a religion, rather than as a relationship. We think about the church and the congregation and the pastor, when our faith is not about any of these; our faith is about the person who says “I am.” Our faith is about the person who says, “I am”, echoing the words of his Father who said in Exodus Chapter 3 Verse 14, “I am who I am.” If we remember it is about a relationship and not about a religion, we will avoid many pitfalls.
“F” reminds us that Jesus gives us food. The feeding of the Five Thousand had been about food for the body and mind, but Jesus offers something infinitely greater in Verse 35, Jesus said to them, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” God has provided for his people in the past, but that has only been for this world, in Verses 49-51, Jesus makes a promise, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Faith in Jesus will be the food for eternal life.
Sometimes we will thank God that he has provided food for our daily lives, and neglect food for eternal life. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the first Christians met each week for the breaking of bread, each week they shared in the Lord’s Supper. When John and Charles Wesley were beginning the Methodist movement, part of their discipline was to attend Holy Communion every week, food for eternal life was important to the revival of the church. Each time we break the bread and share the cup, we should remember we are sharing in the living bread.
“E” is for eternal. When Jesus answers those who criticize him, he speaks about eternal things. In Verses 43-44, we are told, “Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. 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.” How many of those present had given any thought to the last day? They were probably so concerned with their complaints, that they gave no thought to bigger things, gave no thought to the eternal perspective. What would people, who thought only of the here and now, made of Jesus’ words in Verse 47, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
How often do we think of eternal life? If we did, would it not make everything seem different? Would it not make the things about which we are anxious seem unimportant? Would it not put everything in its proper perspective? Would we not be much happier and more content if we realized that all that annoys us is no more than a passing phase? If we have eternal life, why are we often so troubled?
“I am the bread of life”, says Jesus. May that word “life” remind us to listen, my it remind us to think of the one who says “I am”, may it remind us to feed upon him, and may it remind us to be prepared for eternity.