A metaphor: a figure of speech, where one thing is said to be another, even if the first is conceptually unrelated to the second. For example “A mighty fortress is our God” is a metaphor because God is not physically a fortress. Another example: “a sea of trouble.” Trouble by itself does not have anything to do with a sea. However, pairing the word “sea” with “trouble” paints a picture of overwhelming and multiple problems. Many metaphors are integrated so well in our collective consciousness we no longer think of them as such: the arms of a chair; the legs of a table; the foot of the bed; the eye of the needle; fall in love; I feel blue.
Jesus had several metaphors for himself:
- I am the light of the world;
- I am the light of the world;
- I am the door;
- I am the good shepherd;
- I am the true vine;
- I am the resurrection, the way, and the life;
- I am the bread of life.
“I am the bread of life.” This metaphor is what we will explore this morning. With will see that to understand Christ, we need to go beyond common sense into the realm of faith.
Let us consider the setting in this passage.
- A large crowd of more than 5,000 had gathered to see and hear Jesus, they had no food, and it was getting late in the day.
- Working with a donation of 5 loaves of barley and 2 fish from a boy in the crowd, Jesus had miraculously fed each and everyone.
- Impressed, the crowd plotted to take Jesus by force and make him king. Jesus slipped away and went up to the mountain alone to pray.
- His disciples set out by boat for Capernaum but got caught in a strong headwind and rough seas. Jesus walked to them on the water, and immediately they reached their destination.
- The morning after, the crowd chased Jesus all the way to Capernaum, and there engaged him in a most interesting and revealing conversation.
First, the polite question: “Rabbi, how did you get here?”
Jesus, as he always did cut straight to the heart. Eugene Peterson puts the crowds of Jesus this way: “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.” The crowds were not really interested in learning who Jesus was: they were really only interested in this man supplying all that they thought they deserved.
If there is any Biblical statement against the needs-oriented church, this is it. A congregation cheats itself of life and eventually dies if it seeks only to satisfy everyone’s perceived needs irrespective of the claim of Christ on our lives. Without Christ, a church organization would only really be one of so many today that caters to perceived needs.
Jesus, after having confronted the crowd with their shortsightedness, laid down the bait that would attract needs-oriented people. He said:
The crowd swallowed the bait, put two and two together and concluded that to get this “enduring food”, or in other words an endless supply of free food, they must work for it God’s way. They asked: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” And Christ’s answer? “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
“What?” the crowd must have murmured among themselves. In their simple-minded common sense they asked Jesus:
Today, we still hear this same common-sense response. “Show me.” “Prove God to me.” “To see is to believe.” “I don’t see God, therefore there is no God.” These very same people with their plain reliance on common sense will also swear that the air they breathe is made up of tiny molecules and atoms they have never ever seen with their own eyes. So what’s the difference? They would correctly say that scientists have provided the evidence. It is no longer necessary to see with one’s own eyes that the air is in fact composed of molecules invisible to the eye. So really, the claim “To see with one’s own eyes, is to believe” is but a poor defense on the part of an individual who in his heart has really decided not to believe. Like the five-thousand, no proof is ever enough. The problem is with the heart and soul, not the senses.
Jesus took a different tack to drive the conversation forward:
The bait was set: the crowd took it, was hooked and in their self-centred greed they clamored: “Give us this bread all the time!”
“Give us this bread all the time!” A perfect lead-in to that well-known metaphor: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The religious authorities began to complain. They asked: How can a man whose last known address is Nazareth, whose parents we know are Joseph the carpenter and Mary, how can he now claim to have come down from heaven? Impossible! To the religious leaders, the human pedigree of Jesus was a stumbling block to faith in the divine. Common sense blocked their vision.
We see this today as well. We have learned to value human wisdom and common sense so much so that we often find it very difficult to believe and hope in the miraculous and divine.
I am a trained scientist. It was my career, my profession for many decades. I speak of science not from outside the walls but from within. While the majority believe that science is evidence-based, and it is, we often fail to perceive that it is also faith-based, that is, much of it reposes on faith in one’s deductions and ensuing extrapolations. Theories should work and when tested yield the predicted results. If we did not have this faith, we will never have the courage to do the crucial and often costly experiment to test our theories. It is when people of science place too much faith in their deductive powers that disaster looms near, when fraud poses the most intense of temptations, when massaging the data to fit the theory becomes too seductive. Many shining stars have fallen to dust because of this. How great was their fall!
In contrast, the courage to dream big, to go beyond evidence and venture onto the mysterious, to go on faith that there is a whole universe beyond our senses, beyond our ability to understand, beyond our common sense — that is the crucible of legendary breakthroughs.
The quantum physics revolution of the 1920s, that gave us our smartphones, our plasma and LED television screens, our integrated circuits, our computers – this revolution may not have happened if the twenty-something scientists of that era chose common sense over faith and dared not look outside the box of conventional evidence-based wisdom.
We see this same phenomenon in the reception of the Gospel, the Good News of Christ. People who refuse to look beyond common sense, people who lock themselves within unmovable inflexible mindsets and opinions, cannot be argued into believing that Jesus was more than just a man from Nazareth. No amount of logic, persuasive arguments, even historical evidence will persuade them that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
This leads us to a startling claim by Jesus: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.”
“Drawn by the Father…” Jesus used the same word “drawn” in John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.” In the original language, the word carries the meaning of being dragged or being pulled by force, like that of magnetic attraction. The process of becoming a believer in Christ, if we can call it a process, is a mysterious mix of a response to an open invitation and of being compelled, even pulled in by God into the faith. To this day, I cannot explain why I became a Christian, why I came to believe in Christ. Yes I can relate the steps leading to my faith conversion twenty-eight years ago, and yes I can attempt to offer seemingly rational, logical and common sense reasons for it. In the end, all I really know is that once I was blind, now I see. I can’t tell you why I was changed, except that God changed me. And let me not even begin to explain why I went into the ministry and seek ordination – for I cannot give a reason, except that I am convinced in my heart that God has called me to service.
In the same way, ask yourselves: “Why do I come to church?” What are my reasons? Is it tradition? No, there are many other ways one can celebrate heritage. Is it friends? Not really. Many friends never attend church. May I suggest that you faithfully come to church to worship God because God compels you to do so, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Common sense will tell you that on Sunday mornings you could stay in bed, watch television, do the lawn, do the shopping, chill out, have a cold one. But God draws you in each time because God has a claim on each of your lives: you are, each one of you, a child of God, treasured and loved. This is a mystery of God: we are invited, and yet we are also pulled in. Praise be to God.
One final thought: Bread traditionally represents that which sustains physical life. Jesus extends the meaning of life-sustaining bread to the life-sustaining Christ, the Bread of Life from heaven. The Bread of Life sustains life here on earth, the Bread of Life promises and gives life eternal. Christ the Bread of Life sustains our life here on earth by convincing us that life is precious, that life is worth living, that life has a purpose. We draw encouragement and strength from this assurance, and thus we continue to live life to the full, whether in good times or in bad. Christ Jesus, the Bread from heaven, is the sure and certain hope of a future where everything is made new: where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, crying or pain; a future where God himself will be with us face to face. We know that this came at a terrible price: the Bread of heaven is also Christ nailed to the cross, giving up his life that we might be freed from the clutches of the enemy. But we also know that Christ crucified, the Bread of life, is also Christ Risen. Just as death had no power on Christ, so death has no power over those who believe in him. We too, like Christ, will one day be raised to eternal life.
We will wither in discouragement if we ever only trusted in our own devices. We will miss out on the wonder and mystery of God if we imprison ourselves in our common sense. Instead, let us listen to God’s invitation; let us rejoice as we are drawn to Christ; let us embrace faith in Christ and let it soar far above all that you could ever imagine possible, for with God, nothing is impossible.
To the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all glory and dominion, now and forever. Amen.