All through the night they spoke of Jesus, of how he had lifted the bread to heaven and prayed, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth the bread from the earth.” How he had then seemed to break the bread into piece after piece, filling the lunch baskets of each of his disciples, countless times.
How he had lifted up two small fish, again praying, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth the fruit of the sea,” and again breaking them into piece after piece after piece . . .
“Did not our hearts burn?” they said to each other, marveling at the miracle of being fed by the thousands by the one who spoke with such authority, as if from God Almighty.
“Lead us,” they had pleaded with him, “Almighty God is with you, you are the anointed one of David, the one prophesied to us who will redeem us.” But Jesus had shaken his head and nearly shoved his disciples into their boat, slipping and stumbling in the surf.
Then, in a voice that could not be denied, he had dispersed them. Much as they longed to stay near him, it was as though an invisible force compelled them to leave. Reluctantly, they had watched him walk back into the mountain’s wilderness, his form growing ever smaller as he traversed the narrow path zigzagging across its side.
Early the next day, those who had stayed the night on that side of the Galilee had gone looking for him, knowing he had not entered the boat with his disciples.
But he was not there. Search as they might, there was no trace of the prophet.
Meanwhile, other boats from Tiberias had come near to the place where they had feasted on barley buns and fish, blessed and made abundant by God. Many from the crowds ran into the water along the shore, shouting, hailing the sailors.
“Come! Give us passage to Capernaum!”
It was well-known Jesus and his disciples spent much of their time in the house of the fisherman, Peter. They would sail to Capernaum and search for their king there.
It had been so simple! Others had already begun to surround the Lord’s anointed. One man stepped forward and spoke for them all, “Rabbi, when did you get here?!” They really meant how had he gotten there? None had seen him enter a boat, nor walk the long road round the great lake.
When Jesus began his response with “Amen, amen, I say to you,” they all braced themselves. It was his signal that a deep teaching would come, or a hard truth.
“You all seek me not that you have perceived the signs, but rather that you all ate of the bread and were satisfied: Do not work for bread that perishes, but rather for bread that lasts into eternal life, which the Son of Humanity* will give you, for [on] this one the Father has set the seal of God.“
Ears perked up at these words of wisdom. There was a work they could do to gain the bread of God! Bread that would last into eternity, the Bread of Heaven at last, to be gathered as their ancestors had done, with a work worthy of the bread.
No, they did not want to labor away for bread that perished. A whole day’s work might garner just enough grain to grind and bake into loaves that fed them for a day or two. Many lived at the subsistence level. Whatever work the prophet required, they would do it to feast as they had done yesterday by his power.
This time, their spokesman asked what they were all hoping to learn, “What would we do in order to earn-by-working the works of God?”
“This is the work of God,” Jesus answered, looking at each person standing there. His hand was raised, and he was holding up one finger. With his other hand, Jesus pointed to his one finger.
His meaning was clear.
There were no “works” of God. There was no elaborate array of oral laws, sayings, principles, tenets, nuances to the statutes of God, no rites, no special disciplines or keeping of Nazirite vows. There was only one work.
He had their attention!
To follow the Pharisees was to dedicate one’s life to mastering hundreds—if not a thousand—laws that affected every possible aspect of life. What one work would warrant everlasting bread?!
“The intent is that you all would believe in this one God has sent.” Jesus slowly moved both hands with fingers still pointing until both fingers pointed to himself.
Were they not standing there before him?! Had they not begged him to be their king just yesterday?! Could it be more obvious they believed in him? What more did he require? A low hum grew among them as they questioned such teaching. Believe what, then? Some began to gesticulate, waving their hands to heaven, others to argue. Finally, someone called out,
“In that case, what sign do you bring forth that we may perceive and believe in you?”
“What are you producing?” Another voice rose above the crowd’s murmur.
Still a third chimed in, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as is written, ‘Bread from heaven he gave to them to eat.’”
Many more now began to speak loudly, as the crowd roiled and surged around Jesus. In answer, his voice rang out with depth and potency, “Amen, Amen, I say to you,” and the people slowly quieted.
“Moses did not give the bread from heaven to you, but rather my Father gives the true Bread from Heaven to you: for the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and which gives life to the world.”
It was a new aspect of the bread that would not perish. Not only would the bread itself last into eternity, but all who ate of it would also last into eternity. It was as though the prophet were speaking of the very Tree of Life, in the Garden of Eden, the precious gift God had forbidden to all humanity after the great disaster of humankind’s rejection of God’s sovereignty.
For a heartbeat none spoke nor moved. All around them the wind had picked up, swirling the hems of robes and billowing head scarves as though they were sails. Blue tassels fluttered, prayer shawls buffeted and were caught, to be held closely lest they slip off. First one, and then another tried to speak, but their voices never came. The sound of the wind in the trees rustled and whooshed, and the heat of the sun was cut clean through by the force of the wind’s cool.
“Sir,” said their spokesman, at last. “Always give us this bread.” His voice was hoarse with emotion and his eyes held tears, as he opened both his hands out imploringly to Jesus.
Jesus watched them for a while, as they watched him. He read their hearts and discerned their souls. He would give them deeper revelation.
“I AM,” he paused, to let the full import and impact of his words sink in, “The Bread of Life”
Many gasped at his meaning. He was equating himself with God? With the Great I AM?! How could he be the revelation of the manna?
“The one who comes to me will certainly never hunger.” Jesus again spoke with strength and power, his voice carrying over the wind. But then, in his next breath, Jesus dropped his voice to a whisper that yet every single person there could hear as though he spoke from within their own inner being.
“The one who believes in me will certainly never thirst. Ever!”
The life stirring among them began to fade even as the lifting wind also abated, and Jesus’ voice now filled with the pathos of grief and sorrow.
“But rather, I said to you all, ‘You all perceived me.’” Some shook their heads in embarrassed confusion, others looked down.
“And you all do not believe.”
His voice was soft, his look gentle, and he raised both his arms, palms outward as though to invite them all into his embrace.
“Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will certainly never cast away,
“For I have come down from heaven not in order to do my will, but rather the will of the One Who sent me—and this is the will of the One Who sent me, so that everyone he has given to me I will not lose-by-utter-destruction [not even one], but rather I will raise that one up in the last day.
“For this is the will of my Father, in order that everyone who beholds the Son and who believes in him will have life eternal, and I will rise that one up, in the last day.”
The story and quotations come out of John 6:22-40, and include my own imagined portrayal of the scene.
* The traditional way to translate this phrase from the Greek “uion tou anthropou” is “Son of Man.” This is because “Man” connoted “humankind” for a few centuries in the English language. Interestingly, in Middle English, the female version of “man” was “wimman” or “wifman,” our modern-day “woman.” The male version of “man” was “werman.” This left the word “man” as truly neutral, referring to male and female alike as humans.
However, at some point the prefix “wer” fell away, so that “man” came to mean both male humans and humans in general.
Today, being more sensitive to the implications of using the male version of human as standing in for all humans, more and more people are making the intentional effort to use more accurate language when translating. In this case, “anthropos” in Greek is the neutral term denoting humankind (like “anthropology,” the study of people). If a male term is desired, the Greek uses “aner/andros.”
[Jesus blessing the bread | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org]