We live in what has become known as the ‘me’ generation. People are now more concerned with exercising their own rights and doing what they think is best for themselves, rather than looking out for the welfare of others. As a consequence we now hear ‘I want this . . .’ ‘I want that . . .’ rather than expressions of concern for the needs of others. We hear ‘I did this . . . ‘ ‘I did that . . .’ ‘And I did it all myself . . .’ rather than giving others a pat on the back for a job well done.
Now, of course not everyone is like that. And not everyone is like that all the time. However, the fact is that we live in a period of time when the emphasis is very much on the individual rather than the community. And it has become so pronounced that it is not a healthy situation to be in at all.
And with that in mind, it’s interesting to note Jesus’s behaviour in the gospel passage today. Because it shows us a period in Jesus’s life where the focus was very much on him—on who he was and what he was doing. And yet, despite that, he still showed a great concern for others—and in a way that marks a difference between attitudes in Jesus’s world and our own.
Having said that, he also made a number of startling statements (seven in all, according to John), in which he deliberately pointed to himself. Seven statements which all began ‘I am . . .’
And I’d like to retell the story to you, but in a different way. Through the eyes of someone who could have been there.
B. AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
Hello, my name is Zechariah, and I live in a town in Judea, in the first century A.D.
1. Background – A Time of Expectation
Now my story begins during a time of high expectation. As a people, we Jews had lived under the oppression of the Romans for some time. And even though many people had fallen away from the old faith, there was still this belief that God was about to come to our rescue. Of course, that may have been because there had been many people, recently, who had stood up and said they were the promised Messiah. However, as soon as they had come, then they were gone, never to be heard of again.
However, one of the signs that we had learnt from the prophets of old was that when the real Messiah came, he would be accompanied by the provision of bread—an eternal supply. And bread that we understood wouldn’t have to be toiled for. Just like the bread, that history tells us, that Moses gave to our ancestors when they wandered those forty years in the wilderness.
And do you know what? There’s this man called Jesus, who’s recently come on the scene. And what did he do the other day? But he fed five thousand men, plus women and children with no more than five loaves and two small fish.
Well you can imagine the reaction he got. Regardless of what he said, and particularly because of our political situation, the crowd were excited. People were saying, ‘Could this be the real Messiah? Was this the man who would free us from the Roman occupation?’
Is it any wonder, then, that people started to really listen. And do you know what Jesus started to talk about? Bread! That the Father would now give the people the true bread from heaven (32). And that this bread from God would give life to the world (33).
Well you can imagine our excitement. Bread! The very thing that distinguished the true Messiah from those who were false. Not only was there a feeling that we were about to get rid of the Romans, but there was to be a never-ending supply of food as well. Indeed, we wouldn’t have to labour in the fields again, or so we thought.
2. I Am… The Bread of Life (35)
But then, Jesus said something that made us all stop. Because he said, and I quote, ‘I am . . . the bread of life.’ Well, we were with him up to that point. But with that, well that was going just a little too far. Because he started to talk about bread, not in terms of what you and I could pick up and eat, but rather in overtones of our spiritual lives. And let me tell you, many of us didn’t like where he was going.
Indeed, he started talking about providing spiritual nourishment, where he himself was the food. And, what’s more, he continued with overtones of divinity, as though he had a special relationship with God. Which for me, and for many who were around, was going just a little bit too far.
Delusions of grandeur! That’s what it began to sound like. Jesus being the Messiah began to sound just that little bit doubtful. Our rescue from the Romans seemed to be slipping away. And our everlasting food supply . . . Well that was being returned to just a dream. This wasn’t the Messiah! This was just a religious nut on his soapbox. But in Jesus’s case, he was telling us that we needed to change our lives.
But you know, somehow, there was more to it than that. This Jesus, he seemed to be really genuine. When he said ‘I am the bread of life’ it wasn’t by way of a boast, to big note himself as others had done before. This was an appeal, a genuine appeal, for people to change.
3. Opposition (41-42)
However, as you would expect, some people did not appreciate what they heard. They felt threatened. The leaders of the local synagogues—those who felt that they were in charge of all things religious—felt particularly uneasy. They felt they were being targeted by Jesus, and you could see their temperatures rise. How could he challenge their integrity? How could he publicly undermine their positions? And you could see that blood was about to be spilt.
They became angry, and to defend their positions they automatically took up a contrary position to Jesus. How dare this upstart, this nobody, undermine their authority. How dare he claim a special relationship with God? How dare he presume to speak on God’s behalf? That was their job. And you could almost hear their brains ticking over . . . ‘How dare he . . .’ ‘Who was he…?’
And then it clicked—they worked out how to go on the attack. They knew his parents . . . and he was a nobody . . . and they carried on—as people who think they’re important do, when they’re upset. And they made the point, loud and clear, that they didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah at all. Just a local lad who was very much misguided.
4. Jesus’ Response (43-48)
But you know, Jesus was very good. Despite the tirade, despite all the murmurings of the crowd, he didn’t get phased. He didn’t lose his cool. He didn’t over react. Instead, he pointed out that carrying on like they were doing was no way to learn the truth—divine or otherwise.
Then, after having calmed the crowd down, he repeated the things that he had to say. And you must give him full marks for that. He reiterated his special relationship with God (46). And he repeated that people needed to look again at their lives, and turn towards God (through him). There was simply no other way. He was the bread of life on which everyone could depend.
And you know, despite the initial fuss, he did it in such a way (47) that even I began to believe that he wasn’t in this thing for himself. He didn’t expect that everyone would necessarily believe him, but he trusted that God would teach his people (in their hearts) that what he was saying was true.
5. Misunderstanding (49-51)
And of course everything calmed down then, and everything went on quite smoothly. Until . . . Jesus decided to open his mouth regarding what he said were some major misunderstandings regarding our expectations of an eternal supply of food.
Indeed, he said that the original manna was given by God not Moses. He said that the original manna was food for the body and nothing else—it didn’t give eternal life. In contrast, he said the food that he was bringing, would bring life from which there would be no death. And then, he reiterated his claim to have a unique relationship with God. Indeed, he claimed again to be divine, and that any person who accepted him for who he was would (spiritually) live for ever. There was no other way.
6. Jesus in Fear of His Life (7:1)
Now this is the point where I decided it would be safer to disappear. Some of the people who had been riled before, became even angrier with those last few comments. Trouble was on, and I decided to withdraw before the serious stuff began.
Later, however, I heard that Jesus managed to disappear from the scene with his skin intact. He’d upset quite a few people. Many of the authorities, on the strength of what he’d said, wanted him eliminated for good. And the next I heard was that Jesus was spending a lot of time around Galilee, and giving Judea a very wide birth.
And what he did in Galilee is another story, and a story for another time. For I need to get back into the fields, and I need to earn enough to get some bread.
Now that may well have been the perspective of someone who witnessed this event in the life of Jesus. And, in a sense, it shows that nothing has really changed. There might be more emphasis these days on the ‘me’ generation—what I want—as against what’s best for the community. But even in Jesus’s time the attitude of self-importance meant that many people’s vision was limited to maintaining their own self-interest.
Regarding Jesus and the Christian faith, however, even in today’s world nothing has really changed. Because there were three areas in which the people of Jesus’s day had difficulties. Firstly, there were people’s expectations. Secondly, there was the people’s unwillingness to listen to the truth. And, thirdly, there was people’s contentment with their misunderstandings. And those areas are just the same today too.
Before Jesus opened his mouth the people had expectations. They wanted a political Messiah to rid themselves of the Roman invaders. They also wanted an everlasting supply of food.
Now these days the expectations may be different. But many people still have tunnel vision which limits the way they see Jesus. Not least of which is the expectation regarding heaven—and the ability to use one’s own abilities to save oneself. Expectations that people aren’t really that bad—that people can do enough good things to compensate for their mistakes. And expectations that people can earn their own way to eternal life.
1b. I Am… The Bread of Life
However, just as Jesus had to correct the expectations of the past, so too does his statement correct the expectations of the present as well. When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the bread of life, he was claiming that there was no other way to earn salvation. The spiritual food on which salvation depended was the very thing that he brought. And therefore just as faith in him was essential for people’s eternal well-being, then, so is it true today too.
The message hasn’t changed. Salvation cannot be earned or bought, and sin cannot be so easily dismissed. There is only one way to salvation and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.
2a. Unwillingness to Listen to the Truth
When Jesus told the crowds that they were quite wrong—that a person’s eternal well-being depended upon their relationship with the Messiah—the reaction of the crowd was that it was something they really didn’t want to hear. And it was something that riled the religious leaders of the day in particular. They really didn’t want to know the truth of what Jesus had to say.
It should not be surprising then that people don’t want to hear it today, either. If people are convinced they’ve got it right, they’ll find any excuse not to accept that a change in direction is needed. And consequently, we see people denying Jesus by word, deed (or lack of deed), convinced they’ve got it right—people who rigorously defend their stand, as a matter of principle, and people who continue to ignore the eventuality of their coming judgement by God.
2b. Jesus’ Response
As a consequence, Jesus’s, advice to step back, and put emotion aside, and to look at who he is—and salvation—from an objective perspective, seems an eminently sensible idea. Because how can anyone seriously look at any issues, if they are busy being angry or feeling hurt, or feel their pride is on the line?
3a. Contentment with Misunderstanding
However, the fact is that, in the end, some people are happy with their misunderstandings. And they don’t like people to rock the boat. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day, in particular, were comfortable with their position in life, and woe betide anyone who suggested that they’d not only got it wrong, but by implication, that they were leading others astray.
Listening to Jesus is therefore challenging. It always was and it always will be. But then if we embrace it fully, the Christian life is radically different from normal living.
But then not everyone likes his or her cage rattled. Not everyone likes to accept that maybe they are wrong.
3b. Jesus in Fear of His Life
And as a consequence, just as the story ends with Jesus running in fear of his life, so we may find ourselves being persecuted for what we stand for too. Being a Christian is not easy, and anyone who tells you it is, either knows nothing of the Christian faith or is fooling themselves. Being a Christian involves a radical lifestyle, different from the world in which we live. And unfortunately that makes some people very uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable indeed.
So just as Jesus experienced a number of responses from the crowd, from pre-conceived ideas, to not wanting to hear, to misunderstandings—and that was reflected in the lack of belief, the anger, the feeling of being threatened, even the feeling of wanting Jesus dead—so being a Christian is not any easy thing to be.
Having the responsibility of sharing the faith is not straight forward. It wasn’t easy for Jesus, and it isn’t going to be easy for us either.
Now times have changed, and we today we live in the ‘me’ generation. The emphasis is different than what Jesus faced, because today there is much less emphasis on the idea of community, than there was in Jesus’s day. Nevertheless, in Jesus’s day people were still after what they could get out of life for themselves to some degree (as we’ve just seen). However, regarding today’s ‘me’ generation, the emphasis on a person’s wants and desires have become much more pronounced.
And that means it is harder today for people to respond to the message of Jesus than ever before. It is also harder for the faithful to get across the message of salvation.
Despite that, Jesus’s words are still important. And his words in our passage today were, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ (John 6:35). There simply is no other way.
Some people will accept him, but most will reject him.
But today, let’s leave other people aside for a moment and answer the question, ‘What have we done with Jesus? Have we accepted him or do our wants and desires get in the way?’
And if we have accepted him, take heart. The Christian life may not be easy, but we do have a saviour who has been there before. And he will give us the strength to continue to share the gospel to the ‘me’ generation. We just have to be willing.
Posted: 18th November 2021
© Brian A Curtis