Jesus: Living Bread!

“Jesus: Living Bread!”

John 6:35, 41-51 (6:51) – August 8, 2021

            Bread is commonplace – isn’t it? Bread – the staff of life, putting bread on the table, knowing which side your bread is buttered on, the greatest thing since sliced bread, bread and water (the bare minimum food a person needs), and of course, our daily bread.   

 Bread, in some form or other, is found in just about every kitchen, every pantry, around the world. Whether raised dough, sourdough, or flatbread – made of wheat, rye, corn, or rice, or any one of a dozen other grains found around the world – bread is the universal food among the worldwide human race.

            The Rabbi Jesus had been preaching and teaching for a great number of months. Jesus is an itinerant rabbi, but He is preaching in the local area of His hometown. Are we surprised at Jesus’s reception, among the crowd listening to Him? Frankly, I’m not. I might have been skeptical of Jesus, too, if I were in the position of many of these local townsfolk.

             The Rabbi Jesus had already become known for His miracles of healing, plus the deep nature of His sayings and teachings. Here, Jesus makes the bold statement, “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus compares Himself to something that everyone could relate to. He’s not saying He actually is a loaf of bread! However, Jesus talks about an absolutely everyday necessity that everyone is quite familiar with. That way, people might be able to learn more about Him.

            But, there is a problem with Jesus’s statement. He was preaching to a local crowd, and the crowd wasn’t altogether on board with what Jesus was saying. John’s commentary about the crowd’s complaints: “At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

Commentator David Lose said “they knew his parents and his brothers and sisters, they watched him play and learn his trade, grow up and eventually leave home. In other words, they know him, just like they know all the kids from their old neighborhood. And for this reason, you see – because he is just like them, because he is common – he can’t be all that special, and he certainly can’t be the one God sent for redemption.” [1] They knew where His parents lived. How can someone with a known name and address be considered God? From heaven?

Let’s take a deeper dive, and try to get below the surface gripes of the crowd. Sure, these hometown folks knew Jesus, but what is it that really bothers the crowd about the claims of Jesus? Could it be that Jesus’s words about bread are just a bit too ordinary? When this group of people heard the hometown boy preach, was that a little too close to home, and a bit too much like looking in the mirror?

 Sure, the Rabbi Jesus uses a common, ordinary object – bread – to let everyone see how universal their need was. Who doesn’t eat bread, every day? (Unless you are allergic to wheat or other grains, which a small percentage of the population are.) Nevertheless, Jesus wants to show how important His role is in life, and how much Jesus can supply people’s greatest wants and inner needs.

Many of this crowd has been following Jesus for some time. Many follow Him because of His wise teaching, and many more because of His miracles! Prophets of God were reliable at preaching, teaching, even doing miracles. But, this statement crosses some kind of a line.

            David Lose describes the words of Jesus as hitting a deep down nerve. He says, “when I am in need or distress, when I am hurt or afraid, I want to see a God who shows in strength and through miracle, I want to call upon a God who answers clearly and quickly, and I want to rely on a God who is there, really there, when you need him.” [2]

            Isn’t that the case? When you and I are in need or distress, in whatever way, we want to be sure of a God who is responsive, who is there for us. Not some rinky-dink fourth-string quarterback whose parents we know, whose mother and brothers and sisters still live in town, or down the road. No wonder the crowd is grumbling and griping!

            I know very well how much I trip up. I know where I fall down and miss the mark God wants me to hit. I suspect you do, too. We all know our own doubts, fears, broken promises, petty grudges, foolish betrayals. If Jesus is really like one of us – that is, a plain, ordinary, sinful human being! – then we are sunk. We all are in big trouble.

            Jesus makes a comparison between the manna of Exodus and the current bread from heaven. He says “49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus is saying that He is much better than the temporary manna that lasted for just a day and no more – which makes me think of the letter to the Hebrews, which repeatedly describes Jesus as “better” than so many biblical high points.

“Jesus was common, ordinary, mortal like you and me, and yet was also uncommon, divine, the very Son of God. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect form a God – we find God (or rather are found by God!) in forgiveness and mercy.” [3]

            What kind of bread are we being offered, right now? The temporary manna which passes away after a day, or the living bread that comes down from heaven? Jesus calls to each of us, offering to fill our deep hunger with the Living Bread from heaven, for eternity. You and I can say “thank you!” for this gift of love. Jesus offered bread to His friends a long time ago, in the Upper Room. And we still offer bread to one another in our church to remember and participate in Jesus’ love. Truly, a gift from God, however we slice it. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Many ideas from this sermon come from this lesson from Illustrated Ministries. Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for the use of their lesson for the 11h Sunday after Pentecost from John 6, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series. Also, thanks so much to Rev. David Lose, for ideas and quotes from http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-11-b/  “Ordinary Things,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.)


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-11-b/  “Ordinary Things,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

The First Missionary

John 4:5-42 (4:29) – March 19, 2017

Jesus and woman at well icon

“The First Missionary”

When I say these words: “rotten half-breeds!” what comes to mind? Arguments, animosity, maybe even blood feuds. Fighting going on for years, decades, perhaps even centuries. Certainly, nothing good or positive.

That’s the situation we have here in John chapter 4, with the Jews and their hated half-brothers, the Samaritans. The Samaritans were, indeed, half-breeds who had been settled in the middle of modern-day Israel by the Assyrian occupation, about 700 BCE. The fighting and the hatred between these two closely-related tribes of people had been going on for several centuries.

That’s the backdrop we have as we consider this extended conversation between the Rabbi Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman, right smack in the middle of the Samaritan region of the country. Typical Jews would not often cross through Samaria to get from the south part of the country—around Jerusalem, to the north part of the country—around Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. For the Jews, this encounter was in the middle of enemy territory.

Let’s listen in on Jesus and this woman.

In Samaria Jesus came to a town named Sychar. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.)

Here is the situation. Jesus has been walking all morning, wants water, and asks for a drink. I am not going to give a long explanation concerning why this woman came to the well when everyone else had gotten their water for the day. No, and I am not going to ask what kinds of behavior might be scaring the other Samaritan townspeople away. I will let you all imagine what kinds of things they might be.

Continuing with John 4: “The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?” 10 Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water? 12 It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his children and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?”

According to common Jewish thought at that time, this was a “rotten, half-breed Samaritan woman.” Yet, she goes right to the heart of it, and unerringly puts her finger on the complication in this extended conversation. “Life-giving water:” what kind of water is that? Where does it come from?

Stagnant water sits in a cistern or barrel and harbors deadly bacteria. “Life-giving water” or “living water” means running water, like in a stream or river. “Living water, rushing over rocks, cleans us more thoroughly and is much safer to drink. We build settlements where living water flows at the surface, or where wells can be dug reaching to underground streams or springs of water.” [1]

The woman’s rhetorical question, “You’re not greater than Jacob, are you?” can also imply she is rather skeptical of this Jewish guy sitting by the well. 13 Jesus answered, “Those who drink this water will get thirsty again, 14 but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring with life-giving water and give them eternal life.”

15 “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.” Ah. Jesus is upping the stakes, offering this woman living water, and even life-giving water that becomes a spring inside of each person. See how eagerly the woman responds?

16 “Go and call your husband,” Jesus told her, “and come back.” 17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered. Jesus goes to the heart of the woman (and, the heart of the interaction) by broaching the highly personal subject of the woman’s husband. Some might say it was a sore spot. However, Jesus is revealing Himself further to this woman through this statement. Back to the story.

“Jesus replied, “You are right when you say you don’t have a husband. 18 You have been married to five men, and the man you live with now is not really your husband. You have told me the truth.” 19 “I see you are a prophet, sir,” the woman said.

20 “My Samaritan ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time will come when people will not worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans do not really know whom you worship; but we Jews know whom we worship, because it is from the Jews that salvation comes.

25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus answered, “I am he, I who am talking with you.”

Do you see the natural steps of interaction Jesus took with this woman? Her surprise at his asking for a drink of water changed to curiosity at the offer of living water. This further changed to wonder and amazement at Jesus knowing all about her past, and her several marriages. Finally, they reach the topic of religion, and Jesus tells her—in plain words—that He is, indeed, the Messiah. All in a short interchange.

In fact, when Jesus reveals Himself to this woman, He speaks the words “I am.” These words make explicit connections with the divine name in Exodus 3:14, which also confirm the words of the first chapter of the Gospel of John: “the Word was God.” In this way, Jesus fulfills this woman’s expectations of the Messiah and transcends them, at the same time. [2]

27 At that moment Jesus’ disciples returned, and they were greatly surprised to find him talking with a woman.” (Jesus, as a Jewish religious leader, was not supposed to talk with a woman in public, much less a Samaritan woman.) “But none of them said to her, “What do you want?” or asked him, “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, 29 “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” 30 So they left the town and went to Jesus.

Here we have an evangelist. The first Christian missionary! She was so struck by what Jesus had just said to her that she had to go and tell others about it. What is more, she invited all her fellow townspeople to come and see! Come and see this man who told her everything she had done in her life.

Because of this woman’s witness, the number of people who believed in Jesus grows—and not just Jews! The “hated, rotten, half-breed” Samaritans believe, too! Jesus and His words challenge each of us, today.

How do you and I come to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior, our Messiah? Was there some life-changing moment in your life that softened your heart and changed your mind? What was it—what is it that causes us to want to go and tell everyone the Good News? Are we eager to tell others to “Come and see?” [3]

Are we so excited that we forget our water jars—or smart phones—or briefcases—or tool belts? It is important to share our witness and to tell our own story. Jesus encourages us to tell others to “come and see!” Come on, come closer. Come, see the One who knows everything about me, and loves me anyway!

Come and see!  

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/planning-for-worship-during-lent-year-a-living-our-baptismal-calling

[2] Gail R. O’Day and The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 10, The Gospel of John), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 568.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/planning-for-worship-during-lent-year-a-living-our-baptismal-calling

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)