The Bread of Life

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“Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

This is part of what was described as a “hard saying”. Many simply couldn’t get it. They left, shaking their heads. Clearly, something decisive and big was at hand. Twice Jesus used the solemn phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you…” And then says, “I am…”

First, it’s a declaration about who Jesus is.

The passage is so utterly confident, and self-focused, and it denies the popular common misconception of Jesus as [merely] a great teacher. There’s a famous passage by C.S.Lewis which puts this unforgettably:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

So what did He intend?  There is no doubt that the use of “I am” is intended to recall the self-declaration of God at the burning bush (Exodus 3) that “I am who I am.” And in the giving of “manna,” in the promise of supply. and in the self-description of being “the true bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus was claiming divine status. No wonder it was so hard for them to follow.

Second,  it was a declaration about the scale of our need.

The world is hungry for God, hungry for real life. The gift of physical food was not a temporary stop-gap but a metaphor for this deeper need. He offered himself.nothing more. It was all we needed to hear. We need “the bread of life” to satisfy the world’s hunger.

The thought recalls a profound phrase by Fred Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” We the body of Christ are blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. And the world is starving.

I live in Ireland in an area that was once ravaged by famine so severe that our contemporary culture still bears its scars. It was called An Gorta Mor – “the great hunger.” No one was left untouched. It devastated the economy, halved the population and crippled the country’s psyche. Nothing could be the same again.

And that’s precisely how Isaiah described his own society: “Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upwards, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look towards the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom.” (Isaiah 8)

This is the scale of our need. We are caught in a famine so severe that we can barely stir ourselves to get free. We see only distress and darkness.

And in that context, Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Third, the offer is just too good to be true!

I was reading 2 Kings 7:1-11, this morning. Samaria was besieged by the Syrian army, and inside the city terrible things were happening (see 2 Kings 6:24-31). The people were facing starvation, disease and death. Outside the city were four lepers, also starving. If they remained outside they would die; if they went to the Syrian camp they would probably be killed. What should they do? They decided to go to the Syrian camp. As they drew near they were amazed to find “not a man was there” (verse 5) –- but they found plenty of food, clothes, silver and gold… so they satisfied their hunger to the full (verse 8)! Then, they remembered the thousands who were dying inside the city while they had so much. Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

This is a day of good news! Go and tell! It’s (almost) too good to be true!

And who is this for? It’s for the whoever! “Whoever comes … whoever believes…”  Who is the whoever?  As Rick Godwin put it: “Matthew’s genealogy includes the outcast, scandalous and foreigner. The family Jesus comes from anticipates the family he has come for! ” Anyone who is able to acknowledge their own “hunger” may eat.

Come, all who are thirsty
says Jesus, our Lord,
come, all who are weak,
taste the living water
that I shall give.
Dip your hands in the stream,
refresh body and soul,
drink from it,
depend on it,
for this water
will never run dry.
Come, all who are thirsty
says Jesus, our Lord.

 

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