I am revisiting an old Bible Study with new friends this summer and we’re studying the I AM statements Jesus made in the book of John. Ever wonder what the cryptic I am the bread of life thing was about? I’ll be honest, the relevance of that particular statement escaped me for years. My go-to explanation of the somewhat disturbing “eat my flesh and drink my blood” was that it was somehow a foretelling of the Lord’s Supper, which was to come later in John. Unfortunately for me and my theological airs, the Bread of Life Discourse wasn’t really about communion. It takes a little digging, but unpacking these metaphors (even the weird ones) to discover just what Jesus was communicating to His first century audience, is worth the effort. These lyrical gems are not only fascinating, they are faith enriching. Here’s what I found:
Jesus cleverly used metaphor extensively in His teaching, which is something I happen to love about Him even if I don’t always understand it. He very often chose something in the physical realm to explain something in the spiritual realm. This was what He was doing when He said rather dramatically, I am the bread of life. Bread, the staple of the day, was and still is something everyone understands. Carbs or no carbs, we must have food to live.
It was against the backdrop of the feeding of the 5000 (um…bread) that Jesus declared He was the bread of life, using the physical (need for bread) to explain the spiritual (need for Him).
If He had stopped there, the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 wouldn’t have gotten quite so weird. But the people were slow to connect the dots between the physical and the spiritual so He pressed on, fighting an uphill battle. Thankfully, the God of the universe is often willing to be ridiculously patient with slow learners. He extended the metaphor to include eating the bread. Why eat? Consider the example of the ancient Israelites:
If they had seen the manna, touched the manna, toasted and crumbled it into croutons but didn’t actually eat the manna, it would not have saved them from certain death in the desert. It would not have nourished them or sustained them. It could or would do nothing for them unless they ate it…consumed it…digested it and allowed the life-giving nutrients to be broken down and carried throughout their bodies.
In the same way, we must eat the bread of life in order to live spiritually. It’s not enough to know of Jesus, to see Jesus, even to hear Him…we must take Him into ourselves, internalize Him, digest Him. To eat is another way to say “accept.” Are you swallowing this? Get it?
Throughout John 6, Jesus repeatedly returns to the necessity of belief, and this is how it all comes together: we eat of the bread of life when we believe Him, when we believe in Him, when we believe in the One who sent Him, and when we believe what He said is true, and when we understand that He is the one and only way to life. And when we believe — when we partake, consume, digest, accept this truth — we live. We are reborn into spiritual life.
As I sink my teeth into this, I can’t help but extend the metaphor even further. When the psalmist says in Psalm 23: He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, I just wonder if the table He is preparing for me is essentially made up of my current circumstances. Chew on this with me for another minute:
I wonder if He prepares a table before me means a table is set every day where I can choose to eat or not eat. In other words, a table is set where I can choose to believe Him or not. I can feed my faith or I can starve it. It all depends on what I believe.
I find that on any given day in my life, I have opportunity after opportunity to believe Him, to believe what He said is true, to trust Him. Circumstance after circumstance I have opportunity to eat of Him, take Him in, to believe on Him, and you do too. And every time we believe, we are nourished, and we grow. Every time we believe He is faithful, that His promises are good, that His forgiveness is real, that He is coming back for us. EVERY TIME we believe all that He said is true, that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us, every time we choose to believe, our spirits are nourished, our faith is sustained, and we grow in the spiritual because we are feeding on Him, the bread that gives life.
And that’s what this faith journey is all about; it’s a journey of continuing in belief. Continuing to believe. Day after day. Season after season. Decade to decade we keep on believing…and we are feeding on the bread of life.