“Grace We Taste, Bread We Share”
John 6: 35, 41–51
August 8, 2021
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They 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’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 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. 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. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
First some context and analysis: This is the third Sunday the reading has come from the 6th chapter of John. It seems like many more. Every three years in the cycle of Gospel texts we are served a five-Sunday series called the “Bread of Life discourse.” This causes preachers to groan because there is only so much one can say on this theme after a couple of weeks.
The duration of this theme should alert us to the importance of it in our life together as Christians. Maybe it is because the bread of life is what is given in Holy Communion. Perhaps it is more. Maybe you and I are to share the bread of life, just like Jesus did. Dwelling for a while on this theme it is apparent why we need to linger in in this chapter of John for more than one Sunday.
At the start of this series in chapter 6 Jesus had fed 5000 people with fish and bread. Then he promptly went to the other side of the lake to get away from the crowd. A day later the hungry crowd finds him. They want more food. At this point Jesus takes off on the bread theme. “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. … I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Well, the people aren’t buying it and like their ancestors in the wilderness with Moses, they begin complaining (v. 41 literally “grumbling”). You have to believe they are thinking, “If we can use Jesus to meet our needs, great! If he can feed us free bread like Moses did, wonderful. But if he thinks he is going to feed us something to believe other than the Law of Moses he is wrong. No thank you to the idea of satisfying my hunger by believing Jesus.”
In spite of their grumbling, Jesus continues to teach the crowd. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” Keeping the Law of Moses does not grant eternal life.
The bottom line is this. John is driving home the truth that Jesus is the Word of God who gives his life to the world. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v. 51).
That’s the analysis of the story. Now some reflection.
The Bible has many references to bread: the bread of adversity, the bread of tears, the bread of affliction, the bread of mourning, bread of wickedness, the bread of idleness, the bread of the stingy, and it goes on. The reality is there is a lot of bread in the biblical story. For Jesus, the only bread that matters is the bread that endures, the bread of life.
“I am the living bread come down from heaven…” is classic Jesus. He takes something we know well and imbues it with meaning far beyond what we would think. In just a few verses today Jesus refers to bread three times. Bread has always been a sign of God’s abundant provision.
Some years ago, I joined a small group from a church in Florida for ten days in Haiti. The intent was to meet church and school leaders and learn of their efforts which were supported by this Floridian church. One morning while in homestays on the island of LaGonȃve we walked the dusty path into a rural village to visit the bakery. Having just spent the night in a mud hut with a chamber pot available to accommodate nocturnal needs, I was curious about what the bakery would entail.
Coming upon what looked like yet another mudbrick and straw topped structure, we entered to see a crude wooden table piled with huge balls of bread dough ready to be rolled out. The wall opposite the door was a smooth rock-like dome with a large opening. It was the wood-fired oven in which the loaves would bake over hot stone coals. This would be the best aroma I encountered in that destitute land.
That afternoon we were back in the country and learning how another family generates income. These folks were peanut farmers and happy to be showing the American visitors their hand-crank grinders (there was no electricity for miles) to make peanut butter.
Later, as my group reviewed the day before the sun set when we would go back inside our host homes and the doors would be locked to keep us in for the night to keep out evil spirits, we were discussing what we saw as the incredible challenge these villagers faced. While they worked hard baking bread, making peanut butter and more, they survived on a thin margin of success.
If you’ve ever visited a third world country, you know the feeling. It comes when you realize the naked truth that you are very wealthy. Your life back home is brimming with comfort and ease and you really never knew just how vast.
Perhaps it was the discomfort of realizing our wealthy lives in the face of being amidst such abject poverty or it was a prompting of the Spirit — reminding us of the Bread of Life. But before the keys turned in the doors that night, we discovered a mission.
The next morning we trooped our way to the bakery and bought up all the loaves the baker could sell us. Next, we went to the peanut farmers and purchased nearly all of their inventory of peanut butter. Then it didn’t take long. We had a pop-up sandwich stand under the biggest Spanish Cedar tree we could find. Fresh peanut butter sandwiches for all. Come. Eat. Bread for all. No cost. Given for you.
It didn’t take long for word to spread that the Americans were up to something. First, they walked, then some came running carrying their littlest. Entire families assembled. Their Creole chatter escaped us Americans, but we knew by the tone and the expression that these villagers were exchanging glad gratitude realizing that the free lunch they were being offered was, in fact, just that: free. A rare gift.
It wasn’t long before we had run out of sandwich fixings. But those who still had some bread in hand shared with those who didn’t. The smiles and gestures of gratitude lingered on for a while as the contented crowd stayed to visit with each other, dwelling in the love and care expressed in a little bread and some fresh peanut butter.
Bread has always been a sign of God’s abundant provision. It is grace we can taste. And bread we can share for the life of this world.
I visited Haiti three times with different organizations. The number of NGO’s operating in Haiti could fill a phonebook. But the one I continue to support is Haiti Partners. American John Engle and his Haitian wife Merlaine live outside Port au Prince and help Haitians change Haiti through education.
John wrote this is recent days after the assassination of the president and collapse of government: Haiti’s situation is heartbreaking. People are suffering. Your support is literally changing lives. What’s been accomplished during the last ten years in creating new and improving existing schools, thanks to your support, is helping over 1250 students this year, their families and school staff to have better lives. We set our aims on a brighter future by preparing and inspiring future changemakers. We keep on keeping on and we give thanks for your support.
If you’d like to learn more, click on this link. And if you’re so moved to contribute, thank you. You’ll be sharing your bread to bring life to many.