The word “life” in the Gospel reading for today provides four letters with which to think about what Jesus says.
“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?” 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.
The Christian faith is not a religion, rather it is a relationship. It 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 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 is about the things that last.
“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 big picture? They were probably so concerned with their complaints, that they gave no thought to bigger things, gave no thought to the wide 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 the big things? 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 the big picture, why are we often so troubled about the small things?