Over a year ago, just as we were beginning to understand that this pandemic was going to affect us all in very tangible ways, not only did we experience shortages of toilet paper, but also flour and yeast. We may all laugh about it now but at the time, with so many people at home, having lost jobs or working from home, a sourdough baking craze reached most households, particularly if you lived with a millennial. I was very intrigued by this trend. Nearly everyone I knew of my age was baking bread. Journalist Emily
VanDerWerff had a theory, she wrote, “Bread baking is a thing we do in a crisis, perhaps because bread is one of the very foundations of human civilization, and perhaps because it has been marketed to us as life-giving. In the midst of quarantine, we have turned, seemingly collectively, to techniques from the past, like coaxing yeast out of the air, the
sort of sufficiently advanced technology that is indistinguishable from magic. We have learned to create something from nothing.” I warned you a couple of weeks ago that we were about to embark on a month long discussion on bread, more specifically, Jesus as bread. Jess will likely touch on this even more in the coming weeks. But my experiences over the pandemic and hearing VanDerWerff’s perspective, makes me think about Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life and bread from heaven in a new light. In some ways Jesus is “marketing” himself as life-giving as bread. It is also demonstrating that part of the foundations of human civilization is also faith.
Remember, Jesus has just fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish- setting the stage for all this bread language. Then last week we heard a short story in which Jesus walks on water and declares “I AM is with you; do not be afraid.” setting the stage for all this “I am” language. It is now the next day, presumably people are still talking about the incredible miracles that took place the day before. It also appears based on our introduction that they all just spent the night on the shore waiting to see what would
happen next. It must have been a cold night with all that wind! When it appears that Jesus and his disciples aren’t going to show up the crowd decides to go to Capernaum.
Nowadays there is a very well travelled road that goes from Tiberias to Capernaum. It takes 20 minutes to drive from one place to another. Back then, the fastest way to travel was by boat, so they get in and go.
They find Jesus and begin to ask him questions. This morning we jump over 15 verses in which Jesus kind of chastises the crowd for following him with the expectation of more free food. Jesus says, don’t look for food that perishes but for food that endures.
From the get go the crowd has trouble understanding literal versus allegorical meanings and it get’s even more complicated as they realize that some of the crowd know Jesus’ parents. How can he claim to be bread from heaven when they know he grew up in Nazareth as a carpenter’s son.
This is where our passage comes in. As modern readers we can see that the crowd has completely missed the mark but I think that’s in part because none of us grew up with Jesus. I mean, yes, many of us grew up in the church and hold to the reformed idea that Jesus is our friend and king and lives in our hearts but I mean, none of us knew the earthly
Jesus. We didn’t watch him grow from a four year old to a trouble making twelve year old. We didn’t see a young 30 something year old blossom into a wise rabbi. Imagine if one of your friend’s children or grandchildren started claiming to be from heaven rather than from their parents. It gets complicated! This crowd knew too much about Jesus’ personal life to allow his words to ring true. Ironically the crowd also seems to know too little about Jesus’ authority and ability and power despite having witnessed two pretty impressive miracles.
The crowd is presuming to know something about Jesus which sadly clouds their understanding of who Jesus really is. Biblical scholar Brian Petersen calls this “theological irony” because the crowd professes to know Jesus’ father and mother but that only reveals a total ignorance of the Father who sent Jesus. The truth is not found in knowing the human parents but rather the truth is found in knowing that Jesus has come from the Father in Heaven. The crowd’s self-assured “knowledge” blocks their ability to
know the truth. I would argue that we, certainly me, have this problem also. We have difficulty seeing beyond what we “know” to be true and therefore we are unable to see the divine truth amongst us. I know I am right about certain things which means I am no longer learning new truths about this knowledge. The crowd knows who Jesus’ parents are and therefore they cannot move beyond his earth-liness- if only they could look beyond to
discover that they are actually experiencing the divinity God- right in front of them.
Jesus doesn’t loose patience- not yet at least- because he explains that the only way to be drawn into faith is by the Father. In Greek the word means more than to be drawn, a better translation might actually be, “to be dragged”. Essentially no one comes to Jesus without the Father’s pull. It is a two way relationship. We do not sit idly by waiting for God to open our eyes but God also doesn’t wait for us to finally see the truth through
our own merit. This is challenging for us to understand because, as Petersen puts it, there is paradoxical tension in this text between the call to faith and the declaration that faith can only come from God. But this is also not a paradox that is to be unwound, it is simply the mystery of faith. God pulls at us so that we can hear and believe Jesus’ words and have faith. This bread from heaven not only nurtures our souls but also reveals our hearts to
new possibilities and with God those possibilities are endless. Like pulling yeast out of the air to create something from nothing, God pulls us towards Jesus to make us something from nothing.
Jesus presses on with this image. Jesus is indeed bread from heaven but unlike the manna that nourished their ancestors in the wilderness Jesus is LIVING bread. This is not about their ancestors but about the here and now. Our passage closes with Jesus foreshadowing what this really means. It is not the end of the conversation; the crowd will challenge, dispute, and grumble amongst themselves for a while longer as they try to
unpack what Jesus is saying. However, what we hear as the closing to this particular section is, Jesus saying “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” While Jesus may have been speaking allegorically in reference to being the bread from heaven, here Jesus is being literal. They just don’t know it yet. Jesus is promising to give up his life for the world.
As complicated as they are Jesus words are supposed to provide nourishment.
Jesus is declaring that he, not our own understanding, is the source of our strength and faith. Jesus is stating that God pulls us, drags us, draws us to Christ. VanDerWerff said that bread is one of the very foundations of human civilization and this is likely why we turn to bread when we need comfort. It’s not the easiest thing to make, it takes time, patience and strength, but the pay off is pretty great. I would argue that there is nearly nothing more delicious than a slice of fresh baked bread. It may not be the easiest thing to
trust Jesus or understand his words. It may take time and patience on our part to see the ways in which Jesus has been raised to life. It may require us to have a strength of spirit that involves perseverance, and much like kneading dough it requires molding and pulling. Only then can we feel full, nourished by God. Like baking real bread its a bit complicated, understanding needs patience and wisdom needs strength. But the pay off, is worth it. Amen