Formations 03.13.2022: Breaking Bread

John 6:28-35, 41-51

Meals were always a big part of Jesus’ ministry. He famously ate with tax collectors and sinners, to the consternation of the religious authorities. He engaged in dialogue and debate around the dinner table. He taught his disciples to pray for “daily bread.” He told parables about baking bread and inviting people to a banquet—even people who would never be on anybody’s guest list. On the night he was betrayed, he blessed the bread and the cup and told his disciples to partake in remembrance of him.

All this table ministry ought to tell us something. Think of what a meal can mean. At its most basic, of course, it means sustenance for our daily lives. But a meal is more than food, isn’t it? It’s the people we share it with.

If we’re fortunate, most nights we share our evening meal with family. We also share meals at special occasions: weddings, funerals, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Think about the people with whom we break bread, and what it means that we welcome them into our lives.

One of only two miracles recorded in all four Gospels is when Jesus fed the 5,000. (The other one was Jesus walking on water.) As our passage begins, the crowds come looking for Jesus the next day, hoping, it seems, for some breakfast. In John, the author uses this occasion to launch into an extended discussion of Jesus as “the bread of life” (vv. 35, 48).

The conversation takes a strange turn. Jesus, the host, becomes the meal. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” he says. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:52).

Though this verse is not included in our print passage, it casts everything that Jesus has been talking about in a new light. These shocking words are offensive even to Jesus’ own disciples (see v. 60). But it merely underscores what he has been trying to teach them. “You’re looking for nourishment,” he seems to say. “You’re looking for something that will fill you when you’re empty, something that will warm you on the inside when you’re cold, someone who will come and sit beside you when you’re alone. You won’t find that in the ancient history of Moses in the wilderness. You have to come to me.”

Discussion

• Why do you think Jesus conducted so much of his ministry in the context of sharing food around a table?
• When have you drawn new energy from the intimacy and welcome you’ve experienced at a meal?
• How does Jesus give life and nourishment?
• What does it mean to you to feed on Jesus’ flesh?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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