… Something to be angry about!
As our interminable summer foray into John 5 and 6 continues this week, our Gospel lesson doesn’t just start where the last one left off, it helpfully includes the last verse of last week’s lesson as the first verse for this week (then immediately skips five verses that actually help that first verse make sense in context because RCL). Having taught the hungry remnant of the 5,000 what the miraculous feeding was meant to represent, Jesus declares himself to be the bread of life. Those who eat of this bread, Jesus says, will never again know hunger or thirst.
If one were to try to figure out the most offensive thing someone could say in the 1st century Jewish context, this was pretty close. As I noted last week, this “I AM” statement by Jesus, the first of seven in John’s Gospel, would have been fairly obviously blasphemous, unless that person really was the Messiah, the Anointed one of God. To claim the holy name, that which has gone unspoken even about God in Judaism, for one’s self would have been unimaginable. Yet, in a very public setting, Jesus was willing to say “I AM.”
When confronted by the crowd for making such a bold statement, Jesus essentially says, “U MAD BRO? I’ll give you something to get mad about!” Jesus doubles down on his claim – saying twice more “I am the bread of life” and “I am the living bread.” He claims that he will raise those who believe up on the last day. He is even so bold as to suggest that the true bread that gives life to the world is his flesh.
One of the leading complaints about Christianity in the early days was that it was a cannibalistic cult. Jesus does himself no favors here, and yet, he feels compelled to make such outlandish claims because he knows that all of it is true. Jesus is “I AM.” Jesus is the bread of life that God has chosen to offer to the world. Jesus’ flesh, in the bread of the Eucharistic feast, will be the nourishment of all who come after and the sign by which Christ’s Church will signify the ongoing life of faith.
It would have been hard to imagine Jesus going further off the deep-end than his initial “I am the bread of life” statement, but deeper he went. All the while, even in this polemical rhetoric, Jesus is offering an invitation. “If you want eternal life. If you want the salvation that comes from a relationship with God. If you want to know life abundant, then believe what I am saying, as outlandish as it may be, for these words which I speak are the true bread that gives life to the world.”