8/5/2018 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost The text is John 6:24-35.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ah, Simon and Garfunkel…they are my all-time favorite singers. That’s why when Allyn suggested that I sing “Bridge over Troubled Waters” for last summer’s songs of inspiration, it made me smile. It made me remember all of their songs that I used to sing every time I heard them on the radio. One of those songs had the line, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.” This song was originally part of the soundtrack for the film The Graduate, and the song “Mrs. Robinson” became one of the 1960s’ best-known, iconic ballads.
But in an interview on 60 Minutes Paul Simon mentioned that sometime after the song was released, he received a letter from Joe DiMaggio in which DiMaggio expressed his befuddlement at what in the world that song could mean. DiMaggio wrote, “What do you mean ‘Where have I gone?’ I haven’t gone anywhere! I’m still around–I’m selling Mr. Coffee.” Then Paul Simon smiled at Mike Wallace and remarked, “Obviously Mr. DiMaggio is not accustomed to thinking of himself as a metaphor!”
But then, who is? Most, if not all, of us see ourselves as real people with literal, descriptive identities. For instance, I am a pastor, an AKC breeder of merit in Border Terriers, a small animal massage therapist, a volunteer, a sister, a friend and confidant — these are all straightforward descriptions of who I am in relation to the people around me. Like most people, I cannot readily conceive of myself as a symbol for something, as a kind of metaphor that represents something beyond myself.
Indeed, if someone came up to you at a party and said, “You are my shelter from the storms of life,” well, you’d be taken aback. Then again, if you met someone who constantly spouted self-referential metaphors, you’d have to wonder about him or her. We expect people to describe themselves with words like, “I am a plumber” or “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” But our eyes would widen if someone said, “I am the oil that lubes my company’s machine” or “I am the antibody that shields my family from the virus of secularism.” (intro adapted from Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations) Yet this is exactly what Jesus is doing when he says, “I am the Bread of life.” He is referring to himself as a metaphor.
Now a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another in a way to suggest a likeness. For example, “He was drowning in paperwork” is a metaphor in which having to deal with a lot of paperwork is being compared to drowning in an ocean of water. “You’re a peach!” is an expression we’ve all heard and it is a metaphor in which the person addressed is being equated to a peach, suggesting that the person is pleasing or delightful in the way that a peach is pleasing and delightful.
When we use metaphor, we make a leap beyond rational, ho-hum comparison to an identification or fusion of two objects, resulting in a new entity that has characteristics of both. So, what is Jesus saying when he proclaims, “I am the bread of life?
We take bread for granted. When I go to Market Basket there is an aisle dedicated to this one product. There is a choice – go white, go rye, go tomato basil, go artisan or choose a non-gluten substitute. But in Jesus’s time, there were no Market Baskets and bread was a lot more precious than we think of it today as it was more than the conveyer of whatever we put inside. Bread was and still is for most of the world a staple of life, a necessity to survive. So if Jesus is our bread, then he is an essential part of our life.
But he is more than that as Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” This is a phenomenal statement! For, if we eat our fill of bread on one day, we will be hungry again on the next. We eat bread for life…BUT Jesus says that he is the bread OF life.
It’s that little word “of” that provides a depth of meaning to what Jesus is saying. Jesus is careful in choosing his words. If Jesus says the word “for,” he is saying that he is in place of or instead of the bread that provides food for the stomach. But that is not the word Jesus chooses. He uses the word “of” and with that little word, he proclaims that life originates from him. And this is not just any life that he’s talking about.
Now, we know that a person can survive a long time on bread and water. Years ago, during the time of the exodus, the people of Israel hungered and to feed them, God caused a special bread, called manna, to fall from the sky. But, this God-given bread had a dual purpose – for as Moses told them, “The Lord afflicted you and let you become hungry, and then fed you with manna which neither you nor your ancestors ever tasted. That was to let you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord.”
As God’s living word, Jesus is our manna. Jesus is God-given life. By equating himself with bread, Jesus is not only saying that he is essential for physical life, but eternal life as well. He is the word that God has given to all of us and those who come to Jesus will never hunger and those who believe in Jesus will never thirst for Jesus will satisfy our hunger and thirst and make us righteous in the sight of God. Yes, he will need to lay down his own life to do so, but Jesus is God’s bridge over troubled waters. He is the bread that we need and that which God has provided.
Of course, all of this means that there are some things we can’t provide for ourselves. There are somethings that are beyond a good paycheck, an excellent reputation, a large group of family and friends. There is a basic deficiency in real life, one that only God can provide. And when Jesus proclaims that he is the bread OF life, he is not talking “psychological bread.” He’s not talking about providing what is needed so that we can be physically or psychologically satisfied. No, Jesus is talking about the life that we all need – a life in and with him now and forever. Amen.
All of what Jesus is saying to us today is centered on a little word – “of.” He is the “I AM,” the son of the living God and in him we find life. Believe and trust in the Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.