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Saturday, 11 February 2012

John 6:51-58 Feed Me, I’m Hungry

An atheist was swimming in the ocean one day.  Suddenly he saw a shark in the water, so he started swimming furiously toward his boat.  He looked back and saw the shark turn and head towards him.  He was scared to death, and as he saw the jaws of the great white beast open, revealing its horrific teeth, he screamed “Oh God!  Save me!”

In an instant, time was frozen and a bright light shone down from above.  The man was motionless in the water when he heard the voice of God say, “You are an atheist.  Why do you call up on me when you do not believe in me?” The man was confused and knew he could not lie, so he replied, “Well, that’s true.  I don’t believe in you, but what about the shark?  Can you make the shark believe in you?”
 
The Lord replied, “As you wish,” and the light retracted back into the heavens.  The man felt the water move once again.  As he looked back, he saw the jaws of the shark start to close down on him, when all of a sudden the shark stopped and pulled back.  The man watched as the huge beast closed its eyes, bowed its head, and said, “Thank you Lord for this food which I’m about to receive…”

Have you ever noticed that most of the social life of churches revolves around food?  Think about it for a minute.  Weddings and funerals, for example, involve receptions.  Trinity Church and Saint Andrew’s Church are famous for their pot luck suppers.  Saint John’s Church is known for its annual strawberry supper. Many of our congregational meetings involve refreshments, even if it is only tea or coffee. It seems to me that you can’t have an event at church these days without having something to eat!  Food certainly encourages fellowship. It is ritual, spiritual and historic. (Boyes)
 
In fact, many of Jesus’ miracles, teachings and parables involve food. The story in today’s Gospel reading is a good example. It also involves food, but not the type you would expect.  It takes place shortly after Jesus has fed the 5000 with the five loaves of bread and two fish.  He has left Capernaum with the disciples, but the crowd found them.  The people were still hungry.  They wanted Jesus to once again give them physical food, but he could see that their true hunger was for spiritual food.  When he said, “I am the bread of life,” he was not talking about literal “bread”, but he was talking about the true “living bread” in the sense that those who believe in him will have their spiritual hunger satisfied.[1]
 
John’s discourse about the bread of life in Chapter 6 of his Gospel is his way of dealing with the Eucharist, especially since his Gospel is the only one of the four Gospels that does not include the story of the Last Supper. The story is told in its own way in all for Gospels because each one was written for a different audience. In John’s case, his Gospel was written for the church in Greece approximately 60 years after Christ’s Ascension. At this time in history, the Greeks were leaders in politics, philosophy ideology and culture, so their interpretation was much different than that of the Hebrews, for example.
 
The main reason why John’s Gospel doesn’t include the story of the Last Supper is because he wanted to focus on the meaning of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist Jesus meets us just as he did 2,000 years ago. People fall into sin when they don’t believe in God’s word or trust him. To restore us to the way we are meant to be means that we have to be able to trust again. In the incarnation, God became flesh and lived among us. Christ’s entire life was God’s life in the flesh so that we might know him as a God of grace and truth, of mercy and love, and therefore trust him again.
 
When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, he created the final link between his teachings and the Old Testament with its Jewish rituals. The Jewish rites of worship and asking for forgiveness from sin often involved animal sacrifices. Salvation depended on being part of the right race, nationality, bloodline, clan or group. In contrast, the Gentiles believed that life and breath came from the spiritual realm. Consequently, the Gentiles believed that the flesh was corrupt. Their spiritual life consisted of trying to get away from the flesh. The result was rituals and liturgies that pushed God away and made him difficult to reach.
 
Jesus bridged that gap through his death and resurrection---which is the bread of life that he refers to. The bread that Christ refers to is his human nature, which he took to present to his father, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  They are called the flesh and blood of Christ because they are purchased by the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood, and because they are meat and drink to our souls.[1] His crucifixion provides the spiritual food we need for eternal life. (unknown)
 
As God’s revelation, Jesus opens the bread of God’s word in the world. When we eat the bread of life, it fills our spiritual hunger and we become God’s words in the world. As such, we are “our brother’s keeper”. In other words, we must love and care for others like Christ loves and cares for us. If we can’t reconcile ourselves to each other, what hope is there for the life of the world?
 
The word bread also means sustenance. In the Lord’s Prayer, the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread”, really means “Give us today what we need for life”. Flesh and blood also mean a vital, active life. When Jesus says that he is the bread of life, he is referring to his own life and vitality. He gave his life freely so that we can have eternal life if we believe in him. He gives us grace for living. He gives us access to God, forgiveness of our sins, eternal life and much more. We share life with him much more than we share life with our own friends and family (Stroble)

There is an interesting parallel between this gospel reading and the manna that came down from heaven when the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert.  Both Jesus and the manna have their source in God up in heaven, and what Jesus offers is similar to what the Israelites received. (Stoffregen) Unfortunately, the Jews in today’s Gospel reading didn’t understand this parallel. Jesus said that he is the bread of life that came down from heaven, but the Jews knew from scripture and their experience that it was manna, not Jesus of Nazareth that came down from heaven. To them, eating manna and eating a person were two entirely different things. They did not realize that Jesus is the divine word, the revelation of God, and as such not only does he provide the bread, he IS the bread that is essential for our spiritual life.  (Goodpaster)
 
To eat the flesh and to drink the blood of Jesus---and thus believe in him---is to surrender own righteousness before God and cling to Christ’s saving work. Loving ourselves as Christ loves us will involve making personal sacrifices and changes in the way we behave toward others; changes in the way we think, act or believe; changes in the way we worship and pray (including a change in location); changes in the way we forgive one another; changes in the way we regard righteousness and salvation---even changes in our station of life or our economic status. Like the song by the Beatles says, “All you need is love”---the love of Christ as shown by his spiritual food.
 
When we eat the bread of life, we are in Christ and Christ is in us and around us at the same time. If we find it difficult to understand this concept, we are not alone. There is a story about a minister who was walking along the beach with his son. The boy was asking his father questions about a recent sermon about Christ dwelling in his people. The boy said, “Dad, I can’t understand how Christ can live in us and we live in him at the same time.” As they walked further down the beach, the father noticed a bottle with a cork in it. He took the bottle, filled it half-full with water, re-corked it and flung it far into the ocean. He said, “Son, the sea is in the bottle and the bottle is in the sea. As it bobs up and down in the sea, it is a picture of life and motion, life in Christ”. (Zingale)

Faith in Jesus does not begin by obeying church doctrines, not is it an intellectual exercise. Faith in Jesus means responding to his invitation to have a personal relationship with him. Let me give you an example. Suppose some friends invite you to their home for a meal. When you are a guest in their home, they are sharing their intimacy with you. They are sharing with you some of the privacy of that place where they live, eat, love, work on their problems, argue, sleep and depart for work and pleasure and return for rest every day.

After you arrive, they show you around their home in which they take deep pride. Then you sit down for the meal. You fine everything set with care, the food delicious and the conversation delightful. In other words, it becomes a lovely occasion and you leave feeling full in every way. You enjoy bread from the kitchen, but you also enjoy being graciously received, the lively conversation, and being in beautiful surroundings.

Multiply this by thousands of times and you have a glimpse of what the Holy Eucharist is. In the Eucharist, Jesus and “bread of life” are one. In the Eucharist, bread and wine are the elements that provide our spiritual nourishment and nurture our faith in God.  (Leary) Is Jesus our daily bread or a seasonal dish? Is he our regular nourishment, or our Christmas turkey, Easter ham and whatever else conveniently fits in throughout the year? In other words, is Jesus our Lord, to whom we look for all things, at all times? Is he the centre of our life and faith, or is he our insurance policy that we think of only when we need to file a claim in times of need or despair? The body and blood of Christ is active, not static. It nourishes and flows. It is alive and requires our active participation in it to carry its meaning into the world. (Denton)

Works Cited       
Boyes, K. (n.d.). Food. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Milo Thornerry:Sermons: http://www.maherconsulting.com/bumc/sermondetail.cfm?ID=222
Denton, J. (n.d.). Sunday Scripture Readings: May 29, 2009. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Catholic News Service: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/word/05w10529.htm
DiFranco, E. M. (n.d.). Reflections on John 6:51-58. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Reflections on John 6:51-58: http://home.comcast.net/~cta-philadelphia/EMDHomily8202006.htm
Stoffregen, B. P. (n.d.). Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Crossmarks.com: www.crossmarks.com/brian/john6x51.htm
Stroble, P. (n.d.). Whose Casserole (John 6:51-58). Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Religion-Online: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3421
unknown. (n.d.). Bible Truth Online. Retrieved July 7, 2009, from Bibletruthonline.com: www.bibletruthonline.com
Zingale, T. (n.d.). Wisdom=Being in Christ. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from SermonCentral.com: http://www.sermoncentral.com/print_friendly.asp?Cont



[1] Matthew Henry Concise Commentary, part of Bible Explorer 4 software 

[1] ESV Study Bible, part of Bible Explorer 4 software

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