Connections 08.05.2018: The Best Bread

John 6:24-35

My childhood friend Cal and I spent a lot of time at each other’s houses. That meant we often ate lunch at each other’s houses too.

The only thing I remember about eating at his house was that they had Tang, which I thought was cool because (a) astronauts drank it (according to the commercials—Tang commercials, not NASA ones) and (b) we didn’t have it at our house. My mean Mama made me drink real orange juice.

One day Cal’s mother called up my mother. She wanted to know how Mama cooked her hot dogs, because Cal said the hot dogs at my house were much better than the ones he got at home.

“I boil them in water,” my mother replied, straight-faced. This was true; I saw it with my own eyes. (On special occasions, and only for the immediate family, she’d prepare what she called “cheese dogs.” She’d slice the hot dogs, stuff them with cheese, wrap them with bacon, and broil them. They were so good—and so good for you!)

Mama didn’t tell Cal’s mother the real secret, but I know what it was. It wasn’t the way she cooked the hot dogs. It was the way she prepared the buns.

Cal’s mother would just take a hot dog bun out of the bag and stick the hot dog in it, which is fine if you’re at a cookout. But my mother had this stovetop bun warmer. It had a metal colander-type thing in it. You put just a little water in the bottom of the warmer, placed the colander in it, put the buns in the colander, and turn on the heat. The steam would heat and soften the buns. And voila: you had hot dogs that would make a little boy hurt his mother’s feelings over the lesser quality of her well-intended offering.

The difference was in the bread.

The discussion in our lesson text follows Jesus’ feeding of a large crowd with just a little bread. The crowd later goes searching for Jesus. They find him, and he tells them that they went to all that trouble because they want more bread. They say that Moses gave their ancestors in the wilderness the bread called manna, to which Jesus replies that it was actually God who gave them that bread and besides, God has now sent even better bread that gives real life to those who partake of it.

“I,” Jesus says, “am the bread of life.”

It’s not that physical bread that meets our physical needs isn’t important. It is. It’s just that there is more—much more—to life than the physical aspect. To really live is to partake of God’s grace, love, and mercy that Jesus embodies. As we partake of the bread of life, we will develop better-nourished spirits and so healthier motives and perspectives. We will in turn be more able to share the bread we’ve found with other people.

We spend a lot of time pursuing and eating physical bread. But the bread of life is right in front of us—and it’s free. It is like the manna in two important ways: (1) God sends it and (2) all we have to do is receive it. But it is unlike the manna in a very important way: the manna temporarily gave physical life, but the bread of life gives eternal life.

Take and eat.

Then go in the strength of the bread of life to offer love, grace, and mercy to others.

It is the absolutely best bread.

Discussion

1. Imagine John 6:25-34 as response to the prayer of Psalm 51:10-12 (the other lesson text for this Sunday’s lesson). What would that answer be? How do Jesus’ words in the Gospel text address the need expressed in the psalm?
2. What do you think Jesus means when he says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29)? How do we do the work God wants us to do by believing in Jesus?
3. What kind of life does Jesus as the bread of life give us? What does he mean when he says that we will never hunger or thirst again if we come to him (Jn 6:35)?
4. Jesus says that the people came looking for him in search of the wrong things. What are those wrong things? Do we ever approach Jesus looking for them? What are the right things to seek out Jesus to find?
5. What keeps people from accepting the free gift of the bread of life?

Reference Shelf

6:26-34. The sign of bread. The familiar Johannine double … (truly) formula once again introduces a key perspective. The people were following because of the physical food, not because they recognized the signs (v. 26). The KJV incorrectly reads “miracles” here. The nature of the sign is to point beyond miracle to the one who nourishes to eternal life. When one understands such a sign, one should perceive the relationship of the acts of the Son of Man (Jesus’ self-definition, cf. 1:51) to the works of the Father.

The response of unperceiving Jews, however, was tragic. Their request for a sign that would lead them to believe thus inspired yet another double-level Johannine insight framed, as Borgen (1965) has argued, like a midrashic interpretation of Exod 16:15, etc. They missed the point because their desire was for a return to a physical preservation model like that of manna in the wilderness (v. 31). But the bread was not merely a gift from a deliverer like MOSES; it had been given by God. The real gift of God’s bread was not physical; it was life come down from heaven (v. 33). The misunderstanding inherent in their subsequent request for continual supplying of such bread (6:34) introduces an “I am” discourse.

Gerald L. Borchert, “John,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995) 1058.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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