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John 6:44-51 (NIV)
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
The lectionary, for reasons perhaps known only to itself, stopped at verse 40 yesterday and starts four verses later at 44 today. But that removes all context from the story, so I have actually read from verse 41. At the beginning of the chapter we had the story of the feeding of the five thousand and we keep returning to this theme of bread. It is rather ironic that the Disciples, in the presence of the master breadmaker, Jesus, were so confused that all they could do was to strike up a conversation about the price of bread!
Moses also had found the Jews to be inveterate grumblers as he led them through the wilderness. Now they are doing the same in the presence of Jesus, but here in this passage we can discover the true reasons why they rejected him and hence rejected eternal life.
They judged by human values and standards, and noting that he was just a carpenter’s son could not fathom how he could be a special messenger from God. Have you ever made a snap judgement about someone from their appearance, only to find out later who they really were and be totally embarrassed? God has many messengers and we should never reject one because we do not care for the likes of him or her!
They argued with each other – isn’t it so easy to get taken up with our private arguments with people rather than thinking of the wider picture and in prayer submitting our decisions to God.
The Jews listened, but they did not learn – it takes real concentration to listen intently so that all is heard and absorbed. How often in conversations do we half listen, waiting for our opportunity to wade in again with our own opinions? Or listening and all the while being critical and resenting what we hear. The only way to listen to God is in absolute silence and with full concentration.
In Jeremiah 31.3 he hears God saying ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love and I have drawn you with loving kindness’. The Jews would not be drawn, but Jesus says no-one can come to me unless the Father draws him. And the word itself suggests that resistance – the question is which is the stronger, God’s pull or man’s resistance?
The contrast is given that their forefathers had been given manna for physical survival. Jesus now offers a living bread. Reject this and you die, accept it and you live forever. It is what you would call a ‘no-brainer’!
THE COLLECT (additional)
you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope:
strengthen us to proclaim your risen life
and fill us with your peace,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen