Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bread of Life

Tonight, while I was pondering this post, the house has been permeated with the smell of freshly baked bread, because Beve was baking our weekly loaf of bread, loaded with flax, oats, millet along with the whole wheat. I love this bread. It's about the best thing since...well, sliced bread, I guess. A thick slice of it, with some chunky peanut-butter and honey? I mean, it's like dessert, it really is. But what is really great about it is how amazingly good for us this bread is. I've been eating two slices of it a day since last April, and I'm feeling like a whole new (much more healthy, smaller) woman.

And whenever it is baking, no matter how soon after dinner, or how recently I've had my last piece, I want more.  It wafts through the house and makes my mouth water, because there's nothing like a good piece of bread straight from the oven, cut when it's warm, the butter (of course, butter!) melting through it. I didn't have a piece tonight. I'm a whole lot more careful with my bread-intake these days, but I watched Beve eat every bite, and I'm telling you, it made me really, really hungry.  Makes me hungry right now.

The first of the "I AM"s begins with that most basic of human needs: hunger.  And Jesus takes this most basic need and draws our attention to the more deeper need we try to satisfy with bread alone.

John 6: 30-35,41,48,51 is the passage I'm referring to here, where Jesus says, "I AM the Bread of Life."

But the context of this passage is important. The night before (chapter 5) Jesus has this discussion with the Jewish leaders in which He says this first so provocative statement, He had fed the 5000. When a whole crowd of people had gathered on a rocky hillside to listen to Him speak about the Kingdom for hours on end, Jesus had taken a boy's lunch and made it stretch to feed 5000 people. Wrap your brain around that for a moment. Beve's high school has about 1200 students in it. So if about 4 such  high schools (plus a couple hundred teachers) got together for an all-day assembly, that's about what it'd be like. And without a single bit of food between them, except one lowly freshman who'd brought a sack lunch his mom had packed that morning. She'd known it was going to be a long day, so she'd made it plenty big for him--five small barley loaves of bread and two small fish--that's plenty of lunch for a 15-year-old but about like a drop of water in the ocean for what's needed to feed the entire crowd sitting around  for all those hours, hanging on every word Jesus spoke. But that measly lunch was all the disciples could round up when Jesus noticed the restlessness of the people and heard their stomachs growling.  They handed over that lunch, though not certain what on earth Jesus could do with so little, and Jesus simply took the sack lunch, gave thanks for it!!! and passed it around. And everyone ate until they were full, and there was more left over than there had been to start.
Talk about abundance.

Of course it's important that He could multiply that lunch. Of course it's the great miracle of the feeding. But His giving thanks ahead of time is just as important. Jesus already knew--with no doubt ever--that there would be provision for those people.  He demonstrated it with the fish and loaves.

And then He spoke it to the Jewish leaders in the conversation less than 24 hours later (or the next chapter). These Jewish leaders have come to Jesus asking for a miracle. "Show us a miracle and we'll KNOW you are who you say you are." Then they even go so far as to tell Him about the manna miracle, the one where the Israelites were given manna in the wilderness.  This strikes me as funny (in a not-so-funny way). Though Jesus has just replicated the manna miracle in short order by giving bread and fish (and they undoubtedly either knew or were even among those who had eaten some of those fish and bread), the Jewish leaders feel compelled to teach Him about the history of God providing exactly the same thing. It makes me wonder how Jesus could have responded to them so kindly, why He didn't get more frustrated with them more often.

But Jesus is Jesus. He doesn't get into a pissing contest (as I most certainly would have been tempted to do!).  He simply and truly point them to the first essential truth--"I AM the Bread of Life." Think of how radical this sentence must have been to His listeners who first heard it. It's a never-before kind of phrasing, using the same set of "I AM" beginning that links God's name--"I AM" (see Exodus 3) to something completely new. In other words, Jesus is drawing a full connection between Himself and God the Father in a way that those Jewish leaders would not have missed.  And He also points out that, as the most important basic provision for food, He can meet all human needs. It's profound. World-changing. "I AM the Bread of Life." Not simply manna for this day, but for all of life. Everything you need you will find in me. That's what is contained in this succinct statement.  I can't imagine how it could have kept those men on their feet.

Yes, Jesus meets our human need for material things, but is interested in more than just the physical needs of people, though He does meet those as He proved so clearly when He fed the 5000.  The physical need met, however, He wants to make sure that the deeper, eternal need is recognised. That is the need He is most interested in:
 "If you believe in me, you will NEVER go hungry or thirsty again.


Jesus uses an absolute here. NEVER is a pretty big word. It's a word we are often (and should be) loathe to use. So it must imply a pretty profound answer to our deepest need. If the great lunch meal of the 5000 is a picture of how He cares about our welfare, we can trust that He will also care for our greatest spiritual desire. So the question is--what is your deepest spiritual desire? Do you allow your imagination to run wild with what you want from Him?  Are you hungry for Him in such a way that you can't live without Him?  These are the desires He wants to satisfy. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, this is His chief aim--to satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst for Him.

This "I AM" also points us toward the Last Supper, of course. We can't possibly think of Jesus as the Bread of Life without thinking of Him speaking to His disciples that last night. Holding a loaf of bread, He says, "This is my body given for you." What He says that night in the upper room is almost a repeat of what He says in verse 51 of John 6: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."  Jesus spends His entire ministry always drawing our eyes back to His purpose--that He came to give Life.
And that He came to give His life--His body--for ours.

The Bread of LIFE. What do you hunger for? And how do you live in response to the Bread of Life that dwells within you?

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