The bread come down: eating

bread-of-life-tabernacleEating the Living Bread. 47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The expression “Amen, amen, I say to you” (v. 47) also signals the beginning of a new section in the discourse (as before in 5:19, 24–25; 6:32). Yet this section opens with a reprise of familiar Johannine themes: The believer receives eternal life (6:27, 40); Jesus is the bread of life (6:35). These themes provide the theological grounding for what follows. As in 5:19–30, here the Fourth Evangelist advances Jesus’ argument by placing what Jesus has said previously in a new context. The interweaving and overlapping of theological themes evident here and throughout Jesus’ discourses help to create a cohesiveness of theological perspective throughout the Fourth Gospel Continue reading

The bread come down: drawn

bread-of-life-tabernacleComing to the Lord. 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.

Jesus now addresses the crowd for a second time and tells then to stop their grumbling. Then he repeats the saying of v.37, but in a slightly stronger form. In v.37 the word “come” (hēxei) is future, active voice and means that the person (subject) will be in the process of “coming.” But in v.44 the subject is God who will helkysē (draw, haul by force – EDNT v.1:435) the person to him. Continue reading

The bread come down: grumbling

bread-of-life-tabernacleThe Grumbling. 41 The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 42 and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus’ words were not what the people wanted to hear. From the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 to the crowd’s references to mana in the desert, the context has been about bread they could eat. However, from v.35 onward, it is clear that Jesus’ meaning is about belief in himself, the one provides bread from heaven that last forever. The people are beginning to understand that they are not getting more bread and that this person before them is claiming to be someone greater than Moses. They rebel against the claims implied in what he said, feeling that they know very well who he is. In the face of this Jesus emphatically repeats his words. And the people grumble some more. Continue reading

The bread come down: losing nothing

bread-of-life-tabernacleA Missing Piece. The sequence of Sunday gospels does leave out vv. 35-41. The text from the 18th Sunday centers around Jesus challenging the people’s motivation for coming to Jesus. He tells them they only came to see more signs, eat their fill, but not really “work” for the bread that is eternal. The people not only do not understand Jesus’ point, but become bogged down in “what do I have to do to get it” as though they could accomplish this on their own talents and perseverance. Jesus response is that all one need do is believe – and the conversation returns to “show us another sign” and they up the ante – “and make it better than the one Moses did in the desert.” Dodd notes that “The ‘signs’ which the people expect from the Messiah are mere miracles; yet when they see a miracle they fail to see the ‘sign’; for to the evangelist a σημεῖον is not, in essence, a miraculous act, but a significant act, one which, for the seeing eye and the understanding mind, symbolizes eternal realities.” It is at this juncture that returns to the theme of “bread from heaven” only not the one, like the manna in the desert that will spoil, but one that last forever. Continue reading

The bread come down: context

bread-of-life-tabernacle41 The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 42 and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:41-51) Continue reading

The grace to persevere

Eight years ago, the Mars Chocolate North America company wanted to rejuvenate their product line of candy bars. Their creative partner, the global firm BBDO, helped them to launch a national campaign with the basic message: “you are not you when you’re hungry.” The television advertisements were wildly popular with stars such as Betty White and Aretha Franklin appearing in them. In all the tv spots the person just wasn’t themselves until a concerned fried offered them a candy bar. The Aretha Franklin spot always cracked me up. On a long cross-country drive one of the backseat passengers is complaining about everything – and while doing so appears to be Ms. Franklin. The backseat companion encourages the complainer to eat a candy bar because “When you’re hungry you turn into a diva.”  Continue reading

What we thought we knew

Cue the music marking the entry of Indiana Jones on horseback (replete with leather jacket, hat tilted at a rakish angle, whip at the ready) accompanied by skilled Bedouin horsemen all at a mad-dash gallop – and all we need is an amazing backdrop. The Nabatean world historical site at Petra, Jordan was happy to supply the setting for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Part of my summer pilgrimage was a two-day excursion into Jordan visiting the place of Jesus’ baptism, Mt. Nebo, where Moses overlooked the Jordan River into the Promised Land; and Petra. Petra is an amazing place for which my photographs do not do justice. But other than “how I spent my summer vacation,” why would I bring it up in this column? Continue reading

…that you believe: living bread

Bread-of-Life-John-6Comes Down from Heaven. 32 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

At vv.12 and 27 (gathering the fragments after feeding the crowd and referencing perishable food), Jesus implicitly linked the feeding miracle with the manna story of Exodus 16. In v.32, he does so explicitly. For the second time in this chapter Jesus prefaces his remarks with the solemn, Amen, amen, I say to you. Jesus reworks four essential elements of v. 31: Continue reading

…that you believe: challenge

Bread-of-Life-John-6The Challenge.30 So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Throughout vv. 27–31, Jesus and the crowd use the same words but with very different meanings, another instance of the Johannine literary technique of misunderstanding. The crowd’s questions in v. 30 repeat key words from vv. 26–29: “sign” (sēmeion, v. 26), “do” (poieō, v. 28), “see” (eidete, v. 26, idōmen, v. 30), “believe” (pisteuō, v. 29), “work” (ergazomai, vv. 27–28). They shift the burden of who is to work from themselves (vv. 27–29) to Jesus (v. 30). The crowd’s questions imply a contingency: They will do God’s work only if Jesus does God’s work first and performs a sign. Continue reading

…that you believe: working

Bread-of-Life-John-6For What Are You Working? 27 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” 28 So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

A modern reader might be more prone to take the beginning part of v.27 for exactly what it implies: don’t work; it will be given to you – the implication being, given as a gift – and more than that the given (Jesus) has been ordained/sealed for this purpose. But then the one who are hearing these words receive them in a difference context. These are working people for whom there is family and tradition – these are gifts – everything else is earned. The crowd gives “work” (ergazomai) a new meaning. Jesus’ admonition about laboring to receive a gift of imperishable food is transformed by the crowd into a question about their performance of works. The grace in Jesus’ words disappears. Continue reading