by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
What did Jesus mean when he said "I am the Bread of Life" (John 6:35)?
1. A first clue is that in John's Gospel there are eight other similar statements telling us what faith is: "I am the Light of the World" (John 8:12); "I am the Gate for the sheep" (John 8:7); "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11); "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25); "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).
In each case faith is something we do. It is not a philosophy about Light, or Shepherds, Resurrection, or Truth, or Life. If I say I have faith in my bank, I am not discussing some theory about banking. Faith means that I open an account, draw money, write checks, get my monthly pension paid in.
So when I believe Jesus is the Light of the world I walk in that light instead of walking in the darkness and confusion that surrounds me. In those days every night a shepherd would let the sheep in to the sheepfold, shut the gate, and lie down to guard it. So when the Shepherd says "I am the Gate of the sheep", faith is going in to Jesus's protection for our night's sleep. That is why little children like a prayer when they are tucked in for the night. And faith in the Good Shepherd is going out with him every morning for the day's work of finding pasture.
When we have a pain that could be cancer, or we face our own death by torture, or in an accident, we turn to Jesus and act on the basis of his resurrection. That does not mean giving up the fight to live, but it settles the big question, and we can then go on with confidence taking the treatment that is necessary. When Jesus says "I am the Way" faith means that we do not live by the rules and programs that people keep inventing for us, but by looking to see how he does things and walking in his steps. If we believe he is the Truth, we avoid getting confused by the empty discussions, philosophies and lies that our world lives by, and we build our life on the rock of his words (Matthew 7:24). And if we believe Jesus is the Life, we accept and enjoy the eternal life that he came to bring.
2. A second clue to the meaning of "I am the Bread of Life" is in the verb "I am." When God called Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses tried to wriggle out of this very difficult task. One of his objections was "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God's answer was very simple. "I AM WHO I AM." So Moses was to say "I AM has sent me to you." In Hebrew "I AM" is one word, eheyeh. And when people talked about God they said iheyeh which means HE IS. That became the word Yahweh or Jehovah. But in time people began to feel that the word ihyeh (HE IS) was too sacred to pronounce. Instead they would talk about God as "THE LORD." And no one but God could ever say the word ehyeh (I AM).
On one occasion Jesus said that "Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad." His hearers objected "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Then Jesus made what to them was a totally blasphemous statement, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am," and they immediately "picked up stones to throw at him" (John 8:56-59) but he slipped away from them. Jesus had said he was the "I AM" which could only be a claim to be the God of the Exodus.
Then there was the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the temple soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus asked "Whom are you looking for?" and they answered "Jesus of Nazareth." He then used the verb "I AM" and they "stepped back and fell to the ground" (John 18:3-6). Obviously they sensed that they were in the presence of the God of the Exodus.
3. We are now ready to fill out the meaning of Jesus' words "I am the Bread of Life." He is speaking as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord of the Exodus. A few verses later he explained "I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever" (John 6:48-51).
The manna came every day of the forty years of desert wandering until they crossed the Jordan into the promised land. It was free and fell right there on the bushes and vegetation around them. But merely believing that God had given them the manna did not feed them. They had to gather it, and eat it. And there was exactly what they needed for that day. Similarly faith that Jesus is God, the Bread of Life, does nothing for us till we gather and eat. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer communion service, "Feed on Him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving." Faith is something we do every day. As in the Lords' prayer, we say "Give us this day our daily bread." We take our daily nourishment from him, and when we do that we are fed and strengthened for all we have to do.
Notice that the verb "I AM" is in the present tense. Some people live their life in the past. They hash over the mistakes of the past. They accept guilt for sins and failures which Jesus has long since forgotten. They talk about their regrets, and they bring up the awful things people did to them. But for Jesus the past is forgiven and forgotten. He is our God for today.
Other people live their life in the future. "One day I might win the lottery . . . I hope I can get a better job . . . It will be great when the children go to school . . . I am looking forward to having grandchildren . . . I only have five years to go before I can retire." There is nothing wrong with making plans for our future, but Jesus is the I AM for today.
Prayer - Jesus, you have forgiven all that is past, and you can
take care of my future. You are my manna, my Bread for today. And I am