Jesus is the bread of life.
Even though it doesn’t sound like it — this is a radical statement.
How can something seemly so mundane as bread be radical?
Let’s explore this together!
Bread of Life in John 6
So how can we move from such grandiose topics to bread, a banal notion if there ever was one!?
Well, this is the jump that Jesus himself makes in John 6.
Jesus provides for 5000+ in a miraculous fashion. Then Jesus retreats, only to return to his disciples as they are in trouble on the Sea of Galilee. And Jesus reveals his divinity on that body of water by walking on the water and saying that he is the “I am.”
And when Jesus and his team finally make it back to their ministry “headquarters,” the city of Capernaum, they are discovered by the great crowd which Jesus had fed the day before.
Instead of reacting like so many of us might have, Jesus interacted with these folks. And he does it in a truly rabbinical way, answering and asking questions.
And in the turning moment of the dialogue with the crowd Jesus says these words in John 6.35:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
What’s so radical about this statement?
Well, for Jesus’ original audience it was revolutionary. God had used Moses to provide bread (manna) for the Israelites in the desert as they escaped slavery in Egypt. And that image was sacrosanct! Infringing on it or claiming it as one’s own more or less amounted to blasphemy.
But that’s exactly what Jesus did. He claimed to be the bread of life, not Moses.
But the radical-ness goes deeper. For John’s original readers this statement was radical too. It was Rome who provided them bread (literally and figuratively as general provision and protection). More specifically, it was the Emperor who was their provider and to say something otherwise was counter-cultural and even politically dangerous.
But that’s exactly what Jesus did. He claimed to be the bread of life, not the Emperor.
And all throughout time since Jesus spoke these words, they have remained radical.
Competitors for the Title of Bread of Life Today
Let’s think about this in our day and time. Who provides our bread? (I’ll speak from my context, namely the American Church.) Two ideas instantly pop into my head:
- America claims to be our bread of life. Think about it. How many times have you heard people say, in one way or another, that out nation is our ultimate provider? Here are a few ways I’ve heard it: We’re protected by our military, we are educated thanks to our government, many of us receive benefits from our state and federal governments (whether food stamps, health care, retirement benefits, etc.), and we’re given a system (capitalism) in which people can “make it.” And don’t even get me started on the so-called “American Dream”!! If any of us make claims otherwise we’re labeled as ungrateful, unpatriotic, and ultimately un-American. But that’s exactly what Jesus did. He claimed to be the bread of life, not America.
- We claim to be our own bread of life. On a more personal and intimate level, we hold tight to the idea that we provide for ourselves and our families. Many of us have fought and clawed our ways to where we are through all kinds of difficulties, like systemic inequalities, racism, poverty, and just life and all of its complications. So we feel entitled to the idea that we’ve got this. We can take care of ourselves. And anyone who claims otherwise is telling us that our efforts weren’t enough. They are undermining what we’ve accomplished. And they are hamstringing our attempts to be self-reliant! But that’s exactly what Jesus did. He claimed to be the bread of life, not us.
Letting Jesus Be Our Bread of Life
So if Jesus’ radical statement that he is the bread of life is true (and it is!), then how can we allow him to be just that in our lives? Here are a few ideas to get us started:
- Stop allowing other things/people/entities to be our breads of life. As we talked about above, America is not our bread of life and neither are we. In fact, our families aren’t either. Neither are our friends, our jobs, our investments, our passions, our pleasures, our pursuits, or our dreams. Nothing but Jesus can serve as our bread of life.
- Turn to Jesus first. So that means that when we are seeking meaning and provision, the first place we should turn is to Jesus. To be sure, this doesn’t mean that other things and people can help provide for us. Of course they can! But our first source of provision must be Jesus.
- Allow others to help us. Like so many other things in life, seeking to allow Jesus to be our bread of life is hard. In fact, it’s so hard that given enough time, all of us will fail at this miserably if we go at it alone. So, instead, let’s do it together! We need to find a few other Christians and ask them to hold us accountable as we seek to allow Jesus to be our bread of life!
- Pray, pray, and pray some more. But even community and accountability aren’t enough. We need an infusion of divine aid! We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and communities as we seek to make Jesus our bread of life. So we must pray…maybe something like this: Father, help me/us turn to Jesus when I/we are in need. By your indwelling Spirit, help me/us to quit putting my/our faith first in other things. Amen.
- Rest on God’s grace. Even when we have accountability and even when we pray, we’ll still fail. We are humans after all! And when we mess up, when we allow other things and people to be our bread of life, let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s remember that we’re recipients of the greatest gift of all, the grace of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And in that grace there’s unconditional love and unending do-overs.
So that’s it! Jesus is our bread of life!
Now the hard part — let’s live like it!
What do you think? What does it mean to you that Jesus is our bread of life? What are we tempted to put in his place? How can we more and more turn to Jesus first? Let me know in the comments below!