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Pentecost 10, Proper 13, August 1, 2021

Bread of Life

Grace Church, Sheldon

May the words of my mouth, and the thoughts of our hearts, be pleasing to you Lord.  Amen.

This week, we join Jesus again, still followed by a great crowd.  The day before, Jesus filled their bellies with bread and fish, and the crowd wanted to make Jesus king — so he could feed them like this all the time.  While they recognize that there is something tremendous and long anticipated in Jesus, this recognition remains partial, and it is not Jesus’ chosen way.  So, Jesus withdraws, away to a mountain to pray, and his disciples depart across the lake.  Later that night, Jesus rejoins them, walking across rough water.  

When the crowds awaken the next morning, they are hungry again and they wonder, where did he go?  They count the boats: only one boat is gone.  Something strange has happened, and they scratch their heads, recalling how they saw the disciples shove off without Jesus.  And yet they receive word that he is on the other side of the lake, and so they pile into boats and head after him.  They are eager for more food.  

When they find Jesus, they ask him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  But rather than talking about his arrival time, Jesus instead talks about the bread they had eaten the day before.  He speaks of their motivations for seeking him: it is not because something miraculous had occurred, but because they want more food.  

The problem with this kind of food, however, is that it lasts just for a day.  The next day you’re hungry again.  Yet Jesus tells them, there is another food that lasts: a food which imparts strength and health and courage without end.  In fact, when Jesus fed them bread the day before, that bread was a sign pointing toward this lasting bread, given by God.  

The crowd is confused about all this talk about different kinds of bread.  So they change tactics: “what must we do to perform the works of God?” they ask him.

Jesus’ answer is again unexpected.  He does not cite the Ten Commandments or Israel’s long scriptural traditions.  Rather, the work of God, he tells them, is believing in the person whom God sends.  They must recognize a special messenger from God and trust that person.  

The crowd seems to understand that Jesus is talking about himself.  So, they ask him for a sign, so they might believe.  Moses fed the people in the wilderness, they say.  What is Jesus going to do? 

Jesus returns again to the question of bread.  It was God (not Moses) that gave Israel bread, he replies.  But that bread in the desert was not the true bread from heaven that God is giving now.  This bread is a living loaf, bringing life to the world.  

Jesus here is speaking of himself, but the crowd still misunderstands.  So, like the woman at the well, they ask for a permanent supply of this bread.  And now Jesus cuts to the chase: “I am the bread of life,” he says.   

We see other statements like this in the Gospel of John: Jesus says, I am the light of the world (8;12), I am the door for the sheep (10:7, 9), I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14), I am the true vine (15:1, 5).  In each case, Jesus uses a formula, inviting his hearers to recognize him for who he is, as God’s chosen messenger.  Against other people and other things who make similar claims, he is the true bread, the true light, the true door, the true shepherd, the true vine.

Following this statement about his identity, Jesus adds a promise: those who come to him, who recognize and trust him, will find their fill.  Jesus is speaking of another kind of hunger, one that cannot be met with food.  We are creatures made up of bodies and spirits, and we have both material and spiritual needs.  And Jesus ministers to both.  

When Jesus insists on being heavenly bread, he is not discounting the value of daily, material needs.  As we heard last week, Jesus is all the time healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and elsewhere in the Gospels, he tells his followers to pray each day for bread.  God cares about the daily necessities of our lives.  Grace Church affirms this through feeding people at the food pantry.  

So, when Jesus heals the sick and feeds the hungry, he does it because our bodily wellbeing matters for its own sake.  But he also insists that these are signs, pointing towards who he is and the deeper healing and everlasting food that he brings.

How then do we eat this living food, to satisfy our spiritual hunger?  How do find our fill of this heavenly bread that is Jesus? 

In this passage, Jesus emphasizes belief — that we see, agree, and trust him and who he claims to be as sent by God, bringing God’s restoration to all creation.  He tells the crowd: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom God has sent.”  So there is something for us to do.  

But there is also a double meaning here.  This is also the work of God.  There is something that we cannot do: that we need God to do for us.  Our trust in Jesus is also a work that God does, God’s gift to us.  So, not only does God send Jesus, the living Bread, as a gift, but God also gives us faith as a gift.  God begins and sustains our ability to believe.

Yet for those of us who have believed for many years, we still often find ourselves spiritually hungry.  We are longing for things we cannot even name.  And this is right: the present age is a mixture of joy and sorrow.  We only taste moments of consolation now, of that satisfaction and rest that Jesus promises.  We discover this in the Eucharist, in the love between friends, in the stillness of interior peace, in the beauty of creation, and in many other moments of grace, of God drawing near to us.  

However, our persistent spiritual hunger pulls us towards God and towards God’s mission of healing the world.  The fourth century African bishop Augustine said that the Christian life is a holy longing.  And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be satisfied (Mt 5:6).  Complete satisfaction is coming, but not yet, and in the meanwhile, we long for the fullness of God’s kingdom and for feasting on heavenly bread.

So, like the crowd, we too say to Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Amen.

(Author/Homilist: Emily Dubie

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