Deacon Sheila M. Scott
I believe, it is quite difficult for most Americans to understand the importance of bread unless one pays attention to what is going on in many parts of the world today, and truthfully, in our own country, even in our own city, where many children go to bed hungry. A simple loaf of bread: Something, which most of us hardly give a second thought to, but to others less fortunate it means life itself.
There are several passages in the Bible that show how valuable bread was for lifethroughout antiquity. One well known is the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness, and the manna provided to them over 40 years by God.
To address today’s reading from John, we need to start at the beginning of chapter 6, which recounts the event known as the feeding of the 5000. A small boy is brought to Jesus with five barely loaves and from that meager supply of bread Jesus is able to feed the vast multitude that had gatheredto hear him. After the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 Jesus goes on with his teaching but His miracle has generated controversy.
A group of scribes, while impressed, they approach Jesus and tell him, if he is the Messiah he needs to prove it. They point out that when the Hebrews were in the wilderness Moses was able to bring bread from heaven. Since that time apparently there had been a strong belief among rabbis that when the Messiah came,he too, would bring manna from heaven.
This, they believed had been the so called “superman act of Moses” and surely, the Messiah could outdo that.
In other words, the scribes were challenging Jesus to substantiate his claim of Messiahship by raining bread from heaven.
Jesus, – they said – you have fed these people for one day but Moses did it for 40 years. What you have done is multiply a few loaves of bread and fish but Moses made it appear from out of nowhere.
Jesus meets these expectations by saying that they had misinterpreted the Moses event. First of all, he reminded them that the bread had not come from Moses but from God. Moses was the facilitator, not the provider of the manna. Secondly, said Jesus, they failed to see that the real bread from heaven was not manna at all. That was only meant to be a symbol of the true bread. The real bread from heaven comes down and feeds not only man’s physical needs but his spiritual hunger as well.
It was at this point, that Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Bread is central to the major stories of the bible and plays a significant role in life but we must understand that to satisfy our hunger for heaven we cannot eat only the bread of earth.
In our first reading today, from the Book of Proverbs, the wisdom of God is imaged as Lady Wisdom, or Sophia. Wisdom’s creativity has built the universe, and she now wants to share with her guests the lavish menu of creation. She does not demand attendance, but she sends her servant girls to persuade the “simple and those without sense”. This does not mean her guests are to be unintelligent, rather that they have a simplicity that recognizes they are not self-sufficient, that they have more to learn about the way of wisdom, and so they will respond to the invitation. To enter into Sophia’s house, is more than entering into a one time feast, it is to accept the invitation to a way of life in which God’songoing generosity is experienced.
Jesus was telling the scribes that they were putting too much emphasis on physical bread. While physical needs are important, and our bodies do depend on nourishment, bread only sustains life, it does not make life what God intended it to be.
To satisfy one’s spiritual hunger onecannot eat the bread of earth alone, onemust eat the bread of God. That bread is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The scribes then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (NRSV)
Jesus here reveals the hospitality of God. Everyone is invited to the divine banquet: what matters is for each of us to foster our relationship with Jesus. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood is not an invitation to cannibalism, as the Jews feared.
Perhaps we also can be caught up in the question of how does Jesus become present in the bread and the wine, but the more important question may be how webecome present to the mystery of the risen Christ, alive in the Church. The reality of Christ’s presence at the Eucharist is beyond our comprehension. We are asked not to understand it, but to experience it, by partaking of the Eucharist. He invites us to take him into ourselves and become one with him, then we will have real life.
In the Eucharist we deepen our relationship with Jesus, not mechanically but by becoming more and more like him over the years. We meet God in this mysterious and dramatic way: God gives himself to us, and in response, we try to shape our lives into a loving gift for God.
When we are in communion with Jesus – his concerns for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the disadvantaged all around us –will become our concerns, the members of the body of Christ. Without this concern, are we truly a transformed people, a people God created us to be?
In today’s passage the emphasis is on spiritual life, not physical. This bread is a “living bread” because Christ is life itself. Jesus referred to his “living Father,” for God is life, and people who eat the heavenly bread receive eternal life. This is what Christianity is all about: life.
Jesus said he came that we might have life. Death is humanity’s greatest enemy: not physical death which is natural, but the spiritual death which is separation from God. This is the life God intended for us – to know, to believe, to accept, and to serve Christ.
I would like to close with a prayer from the BCP on page 827: For knowledge of God’s Creation:
“Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”. AMEN