[Now for something completely different–reflections on John 6:41-51, my contribution to a Lenten devotional booklet created by parishioners and published under the auspices of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Marietta, Georgia. Once again, we see that “adventures in interdisciplinary land” can lead down some roads not (usually) taken, especially when one is “retired but not shy.”]
Thursday, March 14, 2013
John 6.48. I am the bread of life.
The human need for bread is so strong that it helped produce settled agriculture, and the rise of “civilization,” in the river valleys of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica. Bread remained crucial to life in the first century C.E., as today’s reading from John’s gospel reveals. A day after miraculously producing enough food from five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand people, Jesus tells the crowd that he is “the bread of life.” John’s version of the “feeding of the five thousand,” unlike accounts found in the three synoptic gospels, makes Jesus’ meaning explicit: This mass feeding might be reminiscent of God’s sending manna to the Hebrews in the Wilderness, but, Jesus explains, manna was subject to decay and could sustain human life only for a finite period. In contrast, he does not merely provide bread; he is the “true bread from heaven.” The crowd shouts, “Sir, give us this bread always,” but the text says that the Jews attack Jesus for what he has said. After all, they know him: he is Joseph’s son; how can he say he has come down from heaven? Jesus responds firmly that everyone who believes he comes from the Father will have eternal life, “and the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
John’s treatment of the Last Supper, in contrast to the other gospels, lacks an account of the institution of the Eucharist, but today’s reading (and through the end of chapter 6) has what one theologian calls “unmistakable eucharistic echoes.” The “bread” Jesus refers to is not a thing of the past, like manna in the wilderness; this bread is being given now to those who have faith. As we still hear, during the Eucharist, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven”; as we still pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Readings assigned for this day:
Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38; 73 Jeremiah 22:13-23 Romans 8:12-27 John 6:41-51