Bread of life – This phrase is found only in this passage of John. The connection to the living water of John 4:10 is obvious.
John 4 – Jesus describes living water. The woman response, Lord, give me this water!
John 6 – Jesus describes the bread of life. The people’s response, Lord, give us this bread!
Since Jesus did not declare himself to be the bread of life out of thin air, let’s briefly set the context for this pericope:
-Jesus has just performed one of his most public miracles by feeding over 5,000 people (John 6:1-13)
-The people are obviously convinced by this display of right hand power that Jesus is the Messiah and their plan is to make Jesus king, whether he wants to be or not. So Jesus avoids the premature coronation by retreating to the mountains alone (John 6:14-15).
-That night, the disciples attempt to cross the Sea of Galilee to go to Capernaum (presumably to meet up with Jesus at some point), but they are caught in a storm and need to be rescued. Jesus walks on the water, joins them in the boat and brings them to the other side of the sea, away from the people who were miraculously fed and who want to make Jesus king (John 6:16-21).
-Our pericope is part of the narrative that occurs the next day, when the people pursue Jesus and catch up with him at the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:22-59).
Isaiah 45:15a – Truly you are a God who hides himself.
Let’s call this extended narrative (John 6:1-70) The Bread Discourse. It starts with an extremely public display of Jesus’ power when he feeds over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. But he didn’t just feed them. The text says that the people ate until they were full and that there were leftovers! In other words there was more than enough. The narrative then moves to another miracle when Jesus walks on water and rescues the disciples from a storm. These two miracles are both examples of Jesus’ use of right hand power; overt, visible, tactile displays of divine power and authority. They are what we expect from God. But for Jesus these right hand displays of power serve only as signs to what he is really interested in doing. According to Jesus, the real power comes from the left hand. Left handed power is not obvious, it is not tangible and operates as Luther describes it as sub contrario – under the opposite. This left hand power is hard for us to accept because it is never what we expect from God!
Our pericope starts with Jesus’ response to a request from the people who followed him to Capernaum, people who had been miraculously fed the previous day. Jesus knows that they are following him only because of his display of right hand power, so he quickly attempts to redirect their attention (v.27). They predictably don’t get it, so when Jesus starts talking about bread from heaven that gives life to the world the people demand, “Lord, give us this bread always!” In response to a right hand question, Jesus gives his left handed response, I am the bread of life, which only leads to confusion (vv. 41-42) and ultimately anger (v. 52).
-Are we so fixated on right hand expectations (healing, prosperity, physical rescue) that we can’t see the real hope that comes from God’s left hand (salvation, eternal hope, forgiveness)?
-In what ways have we bought into the belief that real power comes from the right hand? (Note – it’s not that these things are necessarily wrong or unimportant, but they can easily become distractions. They can even become idolatrous when we put ultimate hope in these causes, and sanctify them as if we were fighting for God.) This is not a liberal or a conservative problem, it is a human problem!
*_____________ (come up with your own)
-In the sacrament we receive the body and blood of Jesus. We meet the hidden God in, with and under the bread and wine. Our people need to know this, or they will begin to look for assurance in less hidden places, like their performance or perceived sanctification.
-Notice the connection with the bread (right hand display of power) which fed the 5,000 and the Bread (left hand display of power) which brings eternal life. By way of a history lesson Jesus teaches the limitations of right hand power and that the real hope comes from the left hand – “Your fathers ate 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.”
-The ultimate display of God’s sub contrario work comes on Good Friday when Jesus literally “gives his flesh for the life of the world” and dies on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 Paul describes this as foolishness and a stumbling block, and yet it is the very power of God.