Proper 14/Trinity 11
1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
Every three years the lectionary takes us on a winding journey through John 6. If you are looking for some summer reading on these rainy days, I highly recommend a read through it!
John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 on a mountainside in Galilee. This crowd had been witness to the miracles Jesus had been performing. They began to follow him and the disciples around with curiosity and the hope of another free lunch after Jesus met the physical hunger of the crowd in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Next, Jesus walks on the water in the middle of the night to stop the storm on the lake to the amazement of the disciples. The next day, the hungry crowd is back for more fish sarnies but none are on the menu.
Jesus tells them not to work that food that will perish but the food that endures for eternal life. The heart-breaking and beautiful proclamation of ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whosoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ follows. This is where we start this morning.
At each turn throughout John 6, Jesus is ratcheting up what is at stake. He is making it clear he is not just a miracle sandwich-maker or a really knowledgeable history teacher as he corrects the beliefs of Jewish people listening to and arguing with him. Jesus is reminding them that what was given to their ancestors came from God; Moses was the means of delivery.
This would have been difficult for the Jews to hear. Their beliefs were firmly held, rules were rules and needed to be followed. Jesus is trying, I think, to expand their thinking and believing about God. Some of the crowd are willfully determined not to understand; using Jesus’ family (son of a poor carpenter) and who does he think he is?!
Jane Williams writes, ‘Patiently, Jesus tries to explain, as he does so often in John’s Gospel, that he is not making claims for himself, but simply building on what they already should know about God. God has been working, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from our creation, to make our hearts warm to the Son incarnate, just as God has been working from our creation, to bring us to share in his life. What Jesus is offering is something that we should instinctively recognize, which is the source of our true life.’
Like all offers from God, we are free to turn it down or not recognize it at all. We can choose dust and ashes over the bread of life. Jesus knows this. We choose death rather than the life we were made for. Jesus chooses death too. He chooses to be in our death. He chooses to be the bread of life who dies so that we may live.
Elijah, the ‘he’ who went on a journey in the 1 Kings reading, is at the point of choosing death. He has had enough! All of his fellow prophets have been brutally killed, he has been followed and death is looming large for him. He is tired, hungry and death is the only option as far as he can see. I am sure many of us can relate to the effects of hungry and tiredness on our moods and attitudes. The official term is ‘hangry’. It means to become bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger. Elijah is hangry.
During his nap under the broom tree, he is tended to by the angels and provided with cake and water on two occasions. He was provided with enough bread from heaven to keep him going for forty days and forty nights.
We all need to be fed. Physically of course. But also spiritually. This is what we are doing in Communion. In the breaking of the bread we are receiving our bread for the next stage in the journey. We are choosing the bread of life over the dust and ashes. Jesus is the bread of life. May we choose this bread always.
More of John 6 as Jesus ramps up what he means about being the bread of life.