Today’s reading is John 6:22-59 (ESV):
I Am the Bread of Life.
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Easter Sunday is the celebration of the love of Jesus Christ poured out on the cross. It is an overwhelming love, one that not only justifies us in the eyes of God, but also fills that aching feeling within our hearts, the emptiness and absence of purpose that constantly sits in the back of our minds and nags at us during our triumphs and lowest points alike. As C.S. Lewis famously explained, we experience thirst because a substance exists that can satisfy that thirst – water. Similarly, we experience a desire for joy and fulfillment that earthly experience cannot satisfy, and God is the only substance that can satisfy that desire. We cannot yearn for something that simply does not exist. But being a Christian does not exempt me from the spiritual emptiness that God’s love and “being a good Christian” is supposed to take away. I pray for a family member with a terminal illness, and she passes away nonetheless. I ask that God grant me the ability to forgive a friend who made an innocent joke that left me seething inside after a rough day, but my frustration somehow continues to grow and grow. I call on God to give me the strength to get me through difficult times in my life when I am overwhelmed and utterly alone, but I feel that even He has deserted me when I needed Him most. I earnestly desire spiritual sustenance, and yet I cannot find it no matter how hard I try or how hard I look.
In this passage, Jesus not only declares himself the source of spiritual sustenance, but in calling himself the bread of life, he demands that the crowd following him eat his flesh and drink his blood, a clear violation of Mosaic law. To place this radical claim into context, a crowd has gathered after Jesus has finished feeding the five thousand with bread and fish, and this crowd is demanding additional signs that Jesus is the Messiah. But Jesus has discerned their underlying motives: they have come to him merely seeking physical nourishment. In the same way that Moses had provided manna from heaven for the Israelites in the wilderness, Jesus has broken bread and the crowd has had its fill. But, persisting in its demand for more miracles and more divine signs, the crowd ultimately fails to grasp that Jesus, unlike Moses, has also provided a spiritual sustenance that manna had not been capable of. After all, manna had not come from Moses himself, but from God. All the crowd has to do in order to never spiritually hunger or thirst again is “believe in him whom he has sent,” a clear break from the Old Testament covenant that previously accessed salvation only by doing the works of the Mosaic laws. While these laws prohibited the consumption of flesh tainted with blood, in his call to eat and drink from his flesh and blood Jesus is not referring to actual eating and drinking. Like David’s refusal to drink the blood of his comrades in 2 Samuel 23, the idea of eating and drinking represents profiting from the risking of others’ lives. Unlike David, Jesus goes much farther than refusing to gain from the sacrifices of others, choosing instead to take his own life so that each of us would have opportunity to be named children of God. Echoing the eschatological visions in Isaiah 54, Jesus’ ministry and future atoning sacrifice on the cross heralds the arrival of the new Passover and Exodus. The signs that Jesus has provided but that the crowd has not understood are a way of showing his authority, that God has been working through Jesus as the Word to accomplish His purpose.
Yet the crowd is unwilling to accept this. The grumbling crowd that has received bread expected, and has not received, a certain kind of Messiah. They could not understand Jesus’ claim to divinity in the face of what appeared to be a completely human origin. Jesus, in response, declares himself to be the bread of life, and in this declaration, we find the unique self-revelation of God. In His infinite love and the helplessness of His people to achieve salvation through the Mosaic laws, God draws His people to Him through a gift truly universal in scope. But accepting that gift requires the humility to accept this gift, and only then can we taste the bread of life.
There are many moments in my life when I do not feel the presence of God, and in its place, all I feel is anger, because God has abandoned me to my sin and shame. But perhaps I am looking in the wrong places. The question the crowd ought to have been asking was not, “What can Jesus do for me?” but rather, “Who is Jesus?” His identity, and thus his authority and calling, has enormous implications for our own lives, as he has extended to us the promise and hope of a final resurrection and eternal life. And it is in this promise in which spiritual sustenance lies. Through Jesus as the bread of life, sent from heaven by the living Father, we can have confidence that God has called us, that God has gathered us, and that we do not have to be ashamed because God has not forgotten us.
Eric Yang ’18 is a Junior in Pforzheimer House studying Economics.