An imagined phone conversation:
Caller: “Hello, is this the Bread of Life bakery?”
Jesus: “Yes, this is the Bread of Life. May I feed you?”
Caller: “Maybe. But first I wanted to know what varieties you come in.”
Jesus: “Beg pardon?”
Caller: “Well, I’m looking for something that will be more appealing than that ordinary variety described in the Bible – something trendier that will cater to my particular tastes. Oh, by the way, are you available in a repentance-free product?”
Jesus: “I’m afraid you have the wrong number! The Bread of Life comes in only one recipe – the True Food who came down from Heaven!”
It’s an absurd premise, of course, yet doesn’t it have a certain ring of truth? In our modern consumer culture, we are used to having almost unlimited choices in every aspect of our lives. Even the humble bread that we used to take for granted is now offered in dozens of choices at our local supermarket: ethnic breads, exotic whole grains, gluten-free, dessert varieties, etc. Rather than limiting ourselves to the same old ‘boring’ bread that was served in our school cafeteria, why wouldn’t we seek out the varieties that we find most appealing to our adult tastes and our personal ‘needs’? Bread is no longer just ‘bread’ – it’s a lifestyle choice!
The sixth chapter of John’s gospel is almost entirely focused on the topic of bread. It begins with the Feeding of the Five Thousand when Jesus used five small loaves to miraculously feed the entire crowd (with abundant leftovers) – a miracle so impressive that they tried to forcibly make Him king. This then leads into a lengthy discourse where Jesus emphasizes that in contrast to the ordinary bread whose supply they were so concerned with, that He is “the bread of life that came down from heaven” that must be consumed for eternal life. This claim of divine origins deeply offended many and they were even more put off when He spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. This seemed so offensive that even many of His disciples deserted Him at this time. They had no taste for the kind of ‘bread’ that Jesus was offering – His own person as the ‘food’ for salvation.
We may face the same problem. Unlike the people of Biblical times, for whom bread was the ‘staff of life’ which provided the essential and unvarying basis of their daily diet, bread is for us a menu choice selected to complement the main meal. And unfortunately, many today view Jesus the same way. Even many professed Christians seem more concerned about how to make Jesus fit into their lifestyle, rather than vice versa.
By comparing Himself to bread, Jesus was not describing Himself as a menu choice, but as the one indispensable food that is required for true life. Just as a starving man or woman does not have the luxury of quibbling about the kind of bread being served, we too must consume Jesus as He comes to us – the divine ‘Bread from Heaven’ that we ingest in the confidence that He will nourish us for eternal life. Just as bread was once essential for physical survival, Jesus is our irreplaceable spiritual food.
We must resist the impulse to be drawn in by the many ‘gourmet’ varieties of Jesus that are offered in the contemporary spiritual marketplace. Jesus is at times offered as a social conservative, a radical reformer, a stern moralist, a free-spirited ‘breaker of the rules,’ and many other recipes. Yet, none of these is the true Jesus that is the Bread of Life. That’s why it’s so important that we seek Jesus in God’s Word, not the opinions or interpretations of others. And it’s why our Lutheran worship is centered around hearing and meditating on God’s unfiltered Word, and why we stress the importance of personal Bible reading and study. We seek to consume, not the novel versions of Jesus that our culture serves up, but the authentic ‘original recipe’ of Scripture. This Bread may sometimes challenge our personal tastes and preferences, but this Jesus is the True Food that gives eternal life.
“… Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’” (John 6:67-68).