Proper 14, Year B Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
Y’all know that Weight Watchers commercial where American treasure, Oprah Whinfrey, reaches towards the camera and passionately says “I LOVE BREAD!”? She goes on to say, “I love bread! I now just manage it, so I don’t deny myself bread, I have bread every day.” She makes the daily choice to have bread in healthier ways. When this frequently aired it was perhaps my favorite commercial because I too LOVE BREAD! In fact, while I have mixed feelings about his tally of this, Phil reflects to me that multiple times a week I do still say, “I LOVE BREAD!”. He usually responds with some witty quip like, “Yep. You and Oprah.”
From yeast rolls and biscuits, to nann or a traditional loaf, bread and the making of bread is a much beloved artform in our home. I have been known, at the very slightest nudge of a friend, to make a “quick” batch of biscuits for a 10 pm snack while entertaining artists in our home. There is something about bread that comforts and warms me. Maybe it is the elemental connection I feel when my hands are in dough, or the smell of it baking, or the first warm and steamy bite. Maybe it is my affinity for carbs that for many years of my life has fueled my passion for swimming laps. Maybe it is that for thousands of years it has been a staple, something that humanity has known well across many cultures. Whatever the reason, bread feels and tastes like home.
“I am the bread of life”. I love when Jesus makes these “I am” statements. He is trying to help us very plainly understand who and what he is. Yet, in this case, it leads me down a rabbit hole of what this might mean for me as a modern day Christain who loves actual bread as much as Oprah does. Here, naming himself as bread, I get this sense that Jesus is trying to help me understand that he is something to be known well, daily, and something that sustains me in a basic yet essential way. And as my stomach growls, it sinks in that Jesus is offering us more than physical sustenance. The age-old question for this particular passage, known as the Bread of Life Discourse, is who gets this bread of eternal life?
For many years this text has been troubling for folks. For some, it seems that only those selected by God get access to this bread of life, eternal life. I would like to invite us to think a bit more broadly about this, perhaps even in a way that is actually hard for us to fully understand. Augustine said something like, “See how God draws, not by imposing necessity” but by grace enabling the soul to find its greatest “pleasure” and “delight” by partaking in the truth. It is not, Augustine cautions, for us to judge who is thus dawn and who is not, but rather to realize that our preaching is only noise to the ears unless listeners are drawn by God’s love to hear it.” (FOTW, 336) Through my modern lens I hear this more not as God chooses who is drawn in, but more that we choose ourselves to be drawn in. Something like the notion, when the student is ready the teacher comes.
An overarching theme of this scripture from John is covenant and communion with God, and I would add, with one another (GBC, 416). For both the ancient Hebrews Jesus is talking to, and us as modern readers, it is rather clear that part of what Jesus is pointing to is the reflection of covenant through the Passover story. He plainly mentions the manna from heaven received by Israel in the desert after they have fled Egypt. Passover that for us, connects into our own commitment to Eucharist.
When considering how this plays out in John, one orthodox theologian writes, “The author no doubt wanted to set the Christ event within the framework of the Exodus- Passover theme. In the Johannine passion story, Jesus is made to die at the very time the lambs are being slaughtered in preparation for that same evening’s Passover meal. The symbolism suggests that Christ is the new Passover lamb by which God liberates humanity from oppression, just as Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt.” (GBC, 415)
So what does this mean for us? We make the choice to believe and so have eternal life. We make the choice to receive the sustenance that is Jesus as our daily bread. We make the choice to walk with a God who is a fierce liberator. And in doing so, we are invited to examine the implications of what taking up this covenant means for us. What do we need to change or let go of? What does it look like to never be hungry or thirsty? To look more for signs of God’s abundance, as opposed to what the world tells us abundance is.
To never be hungry or thirsty, to choose to believe and thus receive eternal life is indeed a sign of God’s abundance (TBC, 344). What exactly does God’s abundance look like for us? Is it taking rest, sharing what we have, loving our neighbors in ways we have yet to even imagine? As we continue to prepare for Carolyn’s upcoming sabbatical we have been talking a lot of Christian hospitality, and how God is calling us to think more deeply about our call to welcome the other, to be neighbors in new and dynamic ways.
And I can’t help to think that this is the abundance of the grace that Jesus is pointing us towards here at St. Paul’s. With confidence I claim that abundance of grace that we keep choosing together and see it being lived out as we address racism with our Sacred Ground program, welcome our neighbors with Coffee on the Corner, send Carolyn off to rest and learn more about what it means to be the people of St. Paul’s who desire to live more deeply in God’s grace and abundance. And the thing about believing in God’s abundance… is trusting that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We are saved by grace and we get to choose that grace… that is God’s abundance. How will you choose the bread of life today, tomorrow, in the weeks to come? In what ways is God inviting us more deeply to live into the abundance of Jesus as the bread of life? Because, we get to make the daily choice of Jesus, our bread, every day in every moment. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Resources: Feasting on the Word, Global Bible Commentary, Theological Bible Commentary