The Bread That Offends

Reference: John 6:30-70

In giving us an ideal prayer to use, Jesus includes one material item: give us our daily bread. In order to sustain earthly life, all creatures need food, and bread serves, in both the Bible and current slang, as the generic symbol for all food, and indeed for all material acquisitions.

We live in a culture which goes in another direction. In the sacred/secular divide of our society, many prefer to keep the quest for bread separate from religions needs, and would prefer Jesus stayed away from anything other than the spiritual realm, giving us freedom to run our material life how we please. How else can we explain the present conservative Christian enthusiasm for a secular leadership which is blatantly at cross purposes with Christian values? It follows a longstanding grasping for great material wealth in direct contravention of Jesus’ many admonitions to avoid riches, but in harmony with religion as practiced by many. The Puritan belief that God materially blesses those he favors may have devolved into the Prosperity Gospel, but the bottom line remains.

There is no place in the Gospels where Jesus more forcefully rejects these values than John 6. John records that many stopped following Jesus at this point, because they could not accept what he said. Even the disciples who stayed commented that it was a hard saying. The values of Jesus, as expressed in the Beatitudes and in John 6 are not those of either the worldly or the religious.

At this point, Jesus makes clear what it is all about. It is worth reviewing.

  1. He is the incarnate Lord. Many leave him at this point as reported by John because they cannot accept this. He leaves no doubt of his meaning. He is the one who has come from heaven and will return there, with the ability to resurrect his followers. He is the one who gives life to the world. He says later (John 8:58), “Before Abraham was, I am,” a statement which makes no sense unless understood, as the Jews did, to refer to himself by the divine name, “I am,” total blasphemy unless in fact Jesus is incarnate God.
  2. Jesus is Sacrament. He has come from the Father to enact life and salvation, and will then return to the Father. He gives himself, his body and blood, he is the living bread upon which you must feast to gain life now and eternally. He does not say he offers you bread, rather that he IS the bread of life. It is the participation in Christ himself which is the bread of life, bread that does not deteriorate and decay.

It is a watershed point. It is now spelled out. This is not simply a prophet, miracle worker and charismatic teacher. This is the Messiah, and the Messiah turns out to be quite different than expected, not at all the political revolutionary that contemporary Judaism anticipated. The disciples who remained still didn’t really understand, but Jesus no longer hides the events of the near future from them.

It is in this incarnate Lord that earth and heaven are combined, daily bread and the bread of Heaven blended. It is the same Lord who gives both. As the crowd refers to the miraculous manna given to the people in the desert in ancient times, Jesus reminds them that Moses is not the giver, but rather it is God who bestows it. Yet even though the gift is from God, it can briefly sustain, but it cannot give life to the world. The barrier of sin, raised by mankind, means a further bread is necessary, the bread of heaven who is Jesus. Both are the miraculous gifts of God, both have their specific function in bestowing life. Heaven is the Lord’s, and so is the earth.

It is the integration of heaven and earth which distinguishes Jesus from religion and secularism. In the miraculous feeding of the multitude (John 6:1-13), Jesus teaches the crowd, which hungers for spiritual direction. He also cares about their physical hunger and involves the disciples in meeting that need as well. Jesus orients the crowd, and the disciples, to the balance of priorities. “Give us our daily bread” is a legitimate prayer for all Christians. It becomes illegitimate only when the prayer ends there. The center is Jesus, the bread of immortality, of forgiveness, of doing God’s will, of deliverance, which the Lord’s Prayer equally includes.

Because Jesus is Sacrament, life begins with him, in the new birth of baptism. From that start, the center of life is Jesus, who comes to us as Sacrament in the form of bread. From there, it radiates out and we eat all our food eucharistically, in an integrated sacramental life. Our liturgy, the endeavor of our life, begins and ends in Eucharist, while it includes our vocation and stewardship on the earth and sustains us and all that we are, in the unity of our being, physically and spiritually.

This continues to be a “hard saying” for many, who cannot wrap their minds around Jesus actually being the bread of life. They must relate to a “spiritual” leader instead. “Bread is bread and religion is religion, don’t try to combine it,” is their message. On the other hand, it is the taunt of the secularists as well: “Pie in the sky bye and bye,” is their mocking of religion. And they are right. Those who see their faith only in some future rapture are just teasing you. Jesus is also here, now. He is the Bread who has already come from heaven. He gives you his Body and Blood in that Bread, and all life flows from that, even the bread to sustain you for today.

Many see paradox in that. We see Sacrament, the grace of God come among us, for body and soul, today and always, on earth as it is in heaven.