We are continuing our summer series of Jesus Unfiltered. We aren’t manipulating Jesus to look how
we want him to look, twisting his words to say what we want them to say or ignoring the ones that are
confusing or we would rather not hear. We are looking at the authentic Jesus. For the first half of this
series, we were in the Gospel of Mark. Now, we have moved over to the Gospel of John. Last week, Cindy
talked to you about the Feeding of the 5000. This week we continue on to what is referred to as “The Manna
Discourse.” It can be one of those passages where Jesus is a bit confusing.
Our reading from Exodus earlier is intended to help us minimize the confusion. It is the first place in the Bible
where “manna” is mentioned. The Israelite community was now followGing Moses around in the desert. They had
experienced the plagues in Egypt. They were redeemed from their slavery, and they were given safe passage
through the Red Sea. Now, they were wandering in the desert, over 600,000 people, and they were concerned
about having enough food and water. They are often portrayed as a bunch of whiners, but really this is a
reasonable concern if you think about it. One thing is for sure, regardless of what has happened so far, they still
don’t trust God. They tell Moses, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
So, God hears their grumbling. They don’t even ask God for anything, but God still provides. In the morning is
manna, and in the evening there are quail. The people are told to collect as much manna as they need for one
day and not to save any for the next. At first, before they learned to trust God, there were those who tried to save
some anyway, just in case God didn’t come through tomorrow. It’s only prudent. That’s why we have savings
accounts and insurance policies, right? What happened? Everything that the Israelites saved went bad, full of
maggots, inedible. They learned to trust that God would give them each day their fill of their daily bread, bread
that would only last for one day before it spoiled.
This is the history that is part of the Jewish identity. Last week we heard how Jesus fed over 5000 people with
five loaves and two fish. Then, Jesus withdrew to a mountain, and the disciples left in a boat. When the people
wake in the morning, neither Jesus nor the disciples are there. This is where our narrative picks up today,
beginning at John 6:24.
John 6:24-35 (NIV)
24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into
the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did
you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw
the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for
food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?
What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He
gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread
from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread
of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
There is a story of a graduate student that is close to completing her PhD. She only had one chapter left
to write, and the deadline was looming. The chapter was about a particular painting that was important
to the period of history she was covering. It was so important that it and related paintings of that period
influenced society and the culture of the time.
Off she went to museums and galleries with art from that period. She took down notes from all the
information cards next to the pieces. There were names, dates, other paintings the artist had done, who had
influenced them, and so on. Museum after museum, gallery after gallery, but she never took more than a
glance at the actual paintings. She never allowed them to speak to her.
I can certainly relate to this graduate student. Working so hard every waking moment that you barely have
time breathe let alone stand around gazing at paintings, and yet it can be so easy to get so focused on the
details that you miss the spectacular thing right in front of you.
Look at this print by Claude Monet. It’s title is “Le Jardin at Giverny,” (or The Garden at Giverny) and it was
painted in 1902. I can tell you lots of things about this painting being in the Impressionist style, painted as
Monet’s vision was beginning to fail. I can tell you things about his home at Giverny and other paintings that
he painted there. We can read these two books to learn about the impressionist style, but if we don’t look at the
painting, it’s all meaningless. We miss the whole thing, the whole point of it.
That is what Jesus is afraid that these people who have chased him once again from one side of the Sea of
Galilee to the other have done. They ate the bread and meat that he provided until they had enough, or literally
when they were filled, as it says in John 6:12. When they couldn’t find him the next day, they looked for him
because they were hungry again. They ask him for a sign like the one that Moses provided in the desert with
the manna, which demonstrates that they completely missed the sign he gave them the day before, the exact
sign that they are requesting now.
The problem is that the crowds do not understand what Jesus is really talking about. That is a consistent
theme throughout John’s Gospel. In chapter 3, Nicodemus does not understand when Jesus talks about the
need to be born again through water and the spirit before he can enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, a
Jewish leader and Pharisee, is stuck in the idea of a literal physical birth. He says, “Surely they cannot enter
a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4b) Of course, that is not the kind of birth that
Jesus is talking about. “Born again” is figurative language. The Holy Spirit renews you, transforms you. Things
seem so different that it is like you have been born again, born anew.
In chapter 4, Jesus talks with the Samaritan Woman at the Well. When Jesus talks to her about giving her
“living water,” one of her initial responses is skepticism because he doesn’t have a bucket or anything with
which to draw this “living water” from the well. She is thinking of a physical kind of water that she can drink
once and never worry about her body being physically thirsty again. She doesn’t understand that it is Jesus
himself that is the water, and he satisfies a spiritual thirst of our soul.
We know that even the disciples who spent about two and a half years with Jesus didn’t understand him at least
half of the time. It is not surprising that these crowds do not understand, and like both Nicodemus and the
Samaritan Woman that they are fixated on the physical, physical bread in this case.
Jesus has given them bread for one day, and they want more bread. They see the connection with their Israelite
ancestors in the desert that we heard about earlier. Every morning God provided the manna for the people.
However, as Jesus points out, this was bread that would spoil at the end of the day. Even our bread will eventually
go moldy if we don’t eat it quickly enough. Jesus says the food that he provides will endure eternally, forever.
(cf. John 6:27)
Just like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, they are eager for bread that last forever. This is understandable
as these were mostly poor people who were concerned about having enough to eat on a daily basis. The crowd
was interested for what Jesus could do for them. That is not what matters. What matters is who Jesus is.
This is where Jesus says for the first time, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) What does that mean? In a
figurative sense, it means that followers of Jesus feed on him in much the same way that the Israelites fed on
manna in the desert on a daily basis. Feeding in this way will give us life.
You can understand how people outside the faith at the time of the Early Church found this language quite
disturbing and even used it to persecute Christians. In the passages that we will look at in the next couple of
weeks are even earthier.
When we practice communion later in this service, we will ritually be feeding on Jesus by eating the bread
that represents his body. We will be taking in the juice of the vine, in our case grape juice to represent his blood.
But what does this mean in a practical sense in our daily lives? What it means is hanging out with Jesus.
A churchy term that is often used is “abide.” We abide with Jesus. Our Pew Bibles translate that word as
“remain.” We remain with Jesus. It means getting to know Jesus really well, learning about what he taught
and trying to apply it to our daily lives. How do we do that?
One of my best theological friends, NT Wright, says in his book, The Original Jesus, that it starts with
reading the Gospels, all of them, and reading them again. It’s not a “one and you’re done” exercise. You get
to know Jesus and what he taught by reading and re-reading the Gospels. That is one way to feed on Jesus
Another way is to do things with and for the people of the church. One of the names for the church is the
Body of Christ. When I say church, I mean the group of people that gather to worship God together, not this
building where we worship. We learn about and see Jesus in these people gathered, both the people you see
here today and the people that are connected to this assembly through its missions and ministries. Now, we
always have to remember that we are all on our journey to perfection, all in different places, but we are not there
yet. And yet, we can feed on Jesus by being in relationship with the people following him. We, also, feed on Jesus
by participating in the missions and ministries of the church, by teaching and helping the people that Jesus tells
us about in the gospels. All of this is bread for our souls. It gives us life.
Does this all seem confusing? Is it overwhelming? All these people surrounding Jesus in today’s narrative
certainly found it to be so, not only the crowds but also the disciples. That is why need to continue to abide
or remain with Jesus. This why we need to continually feed on Jesus. We will be continuing with this
“manna discourse” for the next few weeks. Understanding can take time. Are we humble and patient enough to
be taught by a Savior whose purpose is to give us life?