GOSPEL READING John 6:24-35
24When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were [beside the sea,] they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35Jesus 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.”
We’re two weeks in to a five week discourse on bread. The lectionary sticks to the sixth chapter of the gospel of John like jam on toast. And the crowds that follow Jesus think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. But why? Who is this Jesus and what has drawn crowd after crowd to him? We’re still learning about who he is – through the eyes and ears of this crowd. This crowd knows the scriptures well, much better than your average crowd these days.. And apparently they speak as one. Also unlikely for a crowd these days!
They know their history. Their ancestors struggled in the wilderness and Moses gave them bread – actually rained down bread from heaven. So that’s what you’re doing Jesus, we’ve seen that before. What’s your next trick? What sign are you going to do next? What’s on the menu today?
That’s the problem with miracles. Our response is not usually to believe in the miracle-worker, but to ask for another miracle. Do it again, Jesus; slower this time, so we can see how you did that. They ask “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Yeah, yeah, ok. But what do we have to do to get more free food? What’s on the menu, today Jesus? What are you handing out?
This story kind of reminds me of a trip to Costco. Remember when they used to have food samples in the before times? The nice lady is making cocktail weiners on her little griddle. “Cocktail weiner?” “Mm, yes, please.” As you clean off your little toothpick, she’s explaining to you how these are no ordinary cocktail weiners, but are made with organic grass-fed beef, and they come in convenient 7-lb packages in the freezer aisle. You know you have no intention of buying them, of course. Yet, after a little more shopping, you circle back again, hoping the nice lady won’t remember you, and say, “Oh! Cocktail weiners! Are those grass-fed beef?” Sure I’d love to try one….
What becomes clear is that although the manna in the wilderness long ago was a wonderful miracle, it was only a shadow, quite literally just a foretaste or appetizer, of the larger plan of God. As great as the manna was, it was still just regular food. And so of course those who ate that manna were long dead. The 5,000 folks on the Galilean hillsides that day would die eventually, too, even if Jesus provided a picnic like that every week for years. So Jesus keeps talking about a food that will last, a sustenance that nourishes and strengthens for eternal life, and not just for this life.
And then he drops the bomb. It’s him. He’s it. He’s the bread. He’s not just providing the lunch, he’s the lunch. I AM the bread of life
Jesus makes a lot of I AM statements though, so let’s pause here. As many scholars have noted, the sheer number of times that Jesus so emphatically referred to himself as “I am” is itself very likely an echo of God’s personal name as he first disclosed it to Moses at the burning bush. “You tell Israel that I AM sent you.” In the Greek language of the New Testament it is not necessary to use personal pronouns. In Greek each verb form has its own unique ending which all by itself indicates whether the subject of the verb is “I” or “you” or “we” or “she.” Like spanish, and other languages that conjugate the verbs.
So in much of the New Testament when you read in English a line like, “I am going over there,” in the original Greek you don’t actually find the word “I”, which in Greek is ego. The pronoun is implied by the verb form. But in the “I Am” sayings Jesus is very emphatic, each time including the ego as a way of saying, “I am” in a way fiercely reminiscent of the name “Yahweh,” the great I AM of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Creation, the God of the Exodus, the God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Jesus says, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven – but it is my Father who give you the true bread from heaven.. For the bread of God is that which comes down to give life to the world. And like polite but grabby toddlers, the crowd says. Yes, give it. And its then that Jesus drops the I AM. I’m it. I’m the next trick. I’m the gift. I’m the miracle. I’m the thing – I’m who and what God sent. I”m it.
God’s been doing all sorts of miracles in the Old Testament. Bringing the people through all sorts of trouble and sorting out things for them. Trying to teach them, feed them, love them, challenge them, and protect them. But they keep choosing the ways that do not lead to life. And so God comes down himself. Dwells among them as Jesus of Nazareth. And he is life. he is light. he is love. he is bread. he is the door. He is the good shepherd, the resurrection. He is all the things we need and we keep looking past him. Ok, Jesus, what else are you going to DO for us. When we should be saying, thank you for being HERE for us. Amen.