Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ 42They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ 43Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
Translation: Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. The one coming to me might surely not hunger and the one faithing into me will never thirst."
Then the Judeans were murmuring concerning him because he said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven." They were saying, "Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down out of heaven?'" Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me might draw that one and I will raise that one up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they will all be the taught ones of God.' Anyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me, not that anyone has seen the Father except the one being from God. This one has seen God. Truly, truly, I say to you, the one faithing has life eternal. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven so that one may eat out of him and may not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone might eat out of the bread of me, that one will live into the eternal, and the bread which I will give for the life of the cosmos is my flesh."
Background and situation: By most counts, there are seven pre-Easter "signs" in the fourth gospel. The first is turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, the last is the raising of Lazarus. Seven is the number signifying perfection and completion--"God's number," says Eugene Peterson. The seven signs of the fourth gospel, therefore, give us a "complete" picture of Christ.
The fourth item in a sequence of seven is sometimes considered "the central point." In a line of seven, count four from each end and you wind up at the same middle point. The fourth sign in the fourth gospel is the feeding of the 5000. Right after this most important sign, Jesus proclaims himself "the bread of life." For the first time in the fourth gospel, the divine name--ego eimi--is linked with a specific earthly element.
One of the major theological teachings of the fourth gospel is that "the Word became flesh" (1:14). To put it a different way, the eternal God became here and now--the essential became existential. This linking of the divine with specific earthly realities will be proclaimed many times as we move through the fourth gospel. ["I am"--"the light of the world" (8:12), "the gate for the sheep" (10:7), "the good shepherd" (10:11, 14), "the resurrection and the life" (11:25), "the way, the truth, and the life" (14:6), "the true vine" (15:1, 5).]
"I am the bread of life": This week's lection begins with the final verse from last week's lection, verse 35: "I am the bread of life. The one coming to me might surely not hunger and the one faithing into me will never thirst."
The one who comes to Jesus will "surely not hunger." (The double negative underlines the point.) Neither will the one "faithing into" Jesus ever "thirst." There has been no mention of "thirst" since the story of the Samaritan woman in chapter four. Jesus' statement here recalls his words then--"Whoever drinks of the water I will give will never thirst" (4:14). (This is but one of several links between the discourse in chapter six and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4.)
The "Judeans" oppose Jesus: Our lection skips from 6:35 to 6:41. Jesus had been speaking to the crowd, but now his hearers are identified as ioudaioi--"Judeans." Most translations render ioudaioi as "Jews," but ioudaioi is not known to have been translated as "Jews" until after the Bar Kochba revolt of AD 135, well after the writing of the fourth gospel.
From at least the fourth century on, the fourth gospel has often been manipulated to support anti-semitism. This, however, was never the intent of the author. The author of the fourth gospel was a Jew. All of the disciples were Jews. The first Christians were Jews. All these Jews were not anti-Jewish!
Rather, the fourth gospel is an argument within Judaism, an argument between those Jews with a "Judean" worldview who were opposed to Jesus, and those Jews with a "Galilean" worldview which has been formed by Jesus.
Usually, the "Judeans" are associated with opposition from Jerusalem and the Temple. A "Judean" worldview is not strictly a matter of geography, however. Here, there are "Judeans" in Galilee, and they do not "faith into" Jesus (6:36).
Then the Judeans were murmuring concerning him because he said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven."
These "Judeans" were "murmuring" (gogguzo), as had the Israelites when they were wandering in the wilderness following their liberation from Egypt. (When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, gogguzo was the word chosen to translate the Hebrew word for "murmuring". See Exodus 16: 2, 7, 8)
The "Judeans" were "murmuring" because they said that Jesus had said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven." Actually, Jesus had not quite said that. He had said that "the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven" (6:33), and he had said "I am the bread of life" (6:35).
Jesus' Judean opponents have conflated two separate sayings into one. In so doing, they are short-circuiting what Jesus had actually said, which indicates that they weren't listening carefully and hence were not taking him seriously.
They were saying, "Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?
It is curious that the Judeans refer to Jesus as "son of Joseph," a phrase which would tend to subvert a virgin birth theology. (See also Luke 4:22) The fourth gospel, however, does not mention the virgin birth of Jesus. What is the need for a virgin birth if the Word has been in existence since before the beginning of creation?
The Judeans also know his mother as well as his father. This indicates that they are from Galilee, and perhaps even Nazareth. It would be unusual for anyone except close friends of the family to be acquainted with the woman of the house.
Drawn to Jesus: No one can come to Jesus unless the Father "draws" them, Jesus says, indicating that the Father has some kind of "spiritual magnetic power." The same word, elkuo, will be used in 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." From the cross, Jesus has the same kind of drawing power as the Father.
Moreover, Jesus will "raise that one up on the last day." The fourth gospel emphasizes the point. In chapter 6, Jesus says this four times (6:39, 40, 44, 54). The concept of resurrection from the dead was, of course, not unknown in Israel. The pharisees believed in a general resurrection at the end of time, "the last day." What is significant is that Jesus proclaims that he is the one who will do it.
Jesus then cites "the prophets" for the first time in the fourth gospel: "And they shall all be taught by God." He is quoting Isaiah 54 with a slight paraphrase. The actual verse (54:13) says, "All your children shall be taught by the Lord." Isaiah 54 goes on to speak of eating and drinking--"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?"--which has a deep resonance with the themes of eating and drinking in John 4 and 6. (There may also be an echo of Jeremiah 31: "I will put my law within them...and they shall all know me...")
Anyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me, not that anyone has seen the Father except the one being from God. This one has seen God.
The Greek word horao--"see"--is notable for its emphasis on the impression that is made on the observer. The word suggests that one's subjective reaction is heightened by the perception of a new reality. (Far be it from me to quibble with translations done by teams of experts, but KJV and NRSV both have "he has seen the Father," when, really, the Greek word is theon not patera. It should be: "This one has seen God.")
Truly, truly, I say to you, the one faithing has life eternal.
This is a "double amen" saying--"truly, truly"--which is a sign of its importance and one should mentally undermine what follows. The phrase is ho pisteuone. Again, it must be said that the translation of pisteuein as "believe" leads to a false impression.
Pisteuein means "to faith." It is a verb, however, and "faith" used as a verb sounds odd in English. Nevertheless the phrase should be translated as "the one faithing." Here, faith is understood to mean a radical trust, an orientation of one's entire self, not merely a head-trip of "believing" the right things.
That one "has life eternal." This phrase appears four times in chapter 6 (40, 47, 54, 68). The verb is echo--"to have"--and it is in the present tense. "Life eternal"--zoene aionion--means not only living forever, but also living in God's new reality right now. This life eternal comes through "faithing," and through participation in the eucharist (6:54).
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven so that one may eat out of him and may not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone might eat out of the bread of me, that one will live into the eternal, and the bread which I will give for the life of the cosmos is my flesh.
Jesus again says ego eimi, "I am the bread of life," and returns to the theme discussed in verses 31-34--namely, that the bread their ancestors had received in the wilderness was not enough and their ancestors died. As is stated often in the fourth gospel, being a descendent of Abraham doesn't mean much (8:39ff). Besides, eating manna in the wilderness was then. Christ the Lord is right now.
The lection then moves in the direction of eating flesh. Jesus will speak of this in detail, and with rich imagery, in the ensuing verses. According to Father Ray Brown, to take in someone's "body and blood" could, in Hebrew understanding, mean something as simple, and uncontroversial, as accepting the whole person. In chapter 6, however, the emphasis on "eating flesh"--especially, later, "gnawing" flesh (6:54)--would have been offensive in the extreme.
The Johannine community appears to be grappling with its' understanding of the eucharist. Exactly what is happening in the eucharist? The debates over transubstantiation and "real presence" are far in the future, but the Johannine community is wrestling with this question already in the late first century.
Image: Kirsten Malcolm Berry