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A conversation with Jesus about bread

Lynne Baab • Thursday November 26 2020

A conversation with Jesus about bread

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On this week of Thanksgiving, when so many American families are making stuffing alone rather than with extended family and friends, I want to give you some of Jesus’ thoughts on bread, and his disciples’ response. I get a kick out of the back-and-forth dialogues in the Gospels between Jesus and his followers. So often I wonder what the followers – or Jesus – were thinking when they spoke.

The story for today comes from John 6, an eventful chapter. It opens with the feeding of the five thousand. Afterwards, in the evening, Jesus withdraws to the mountain, and the disciples set off across the Sea of Galilee in their boat. In the night, Jesus comes to them walking on the water. The next morning, the crowd notices something odd about the number of boats left at the scene of the feeding, and they come to Capernaum to search for Jesus.

Here’s the first conversational exchange after the crowd finds Jesus:

“When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal’”(John 6:25-27).

The crowd asks about Jesus’ arrival time, an indirect way of asking about his form of transportation. Jesus responds by talking about their motives in following him. I wonder about the feelings that lie behind Jesus’ words here. Was Jesus angry? Irritated? Simply pointing out that humans far too often focus on what God can give us rather than what God really cares about?

If you had heard those words from Jesus, how would you respond? What would you ask next? Here’s how the crowd responds:

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:28-29).

The crowd’s question takes me by surprise. I have a lot of other questions I would have asked first. Jesus’ reply is soothing. Great, all I have to do is believe in God and believe in Jesus as the Sent One.

Again, think about what you would ask next if you had heard these words from Jesus. To my surprise, the crowd returns to the question of signs.

“So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’” (John 6:30-33).

If I had been Jesus hearing their first and second sentences, I would have felt so exasperated. Jesus has been giving them signs (miracles and healings) throughout his ministry, and they’re asking for another? Yet he responds to their question about manna with respect, and builds on it to speak about the true bread from heaven, the bread of God, which gives life to the world.

I’ll include one more response from the crowd. At this point, my heart warms at their desire to receive from Jesus.

“They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always’” (John 6:34).

Lord Jesus Christ, Bread of Heaven, we join with the crowd around Jesus in being overly focused on your gifts rather than on you. In these strange and hard times, we look around us and see so many ways we want you to act, so many gifts we want you to give us. We want your help and your strength. We want your discernment and your ability to love. We want a vaccine and we want racial justice. We want peace between people who disagree. Help us to long for you, the Bread of Life. Help us to say with the crowd, give us this bread – yourself – always. Amen.

(Next week: lament in a few psalms. I love to get new subscribers to this blog. Sign up below if you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog.)

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