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Jesus: Bread, Light, Life; Jesus the Jew & Anti-Semitism (John 6, 9, 14)
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“I am the bread of life.” – John 6:35
Jesus: Bread, Light, and Life – John 6, 9, and 14
Jesus’ proclamations about himself—known as the “I AM” sayings—provide some of the threads that weave a tapestry of stunning revelations about this man who is God in human flesh. Even the form of these “I AM” sayings proclaim in a sure yet subtle voice that Jesus is God. By using the words “I AM,” these sayings of Jesus hark back to the revelation of God’s mysterious name in Exodus 3:13-14, when God responds to Moses’ question about God’s name by saying, “I AM WHO I AM,” or in Hebrew: YAHWEH. In effect, by using “I AM” language about himself, Jesus is proclaiming his kinship, his virtual identity, with the God who is “I AM.”
There are a total of seven “I AM” proclamations in John’s Gospel, and through them Jesus reveals himself as: (1) bread of life (6:35); (2) light of the world (8:12); (3) gate (10:9); (4) good shepherd (10:11); (5) resurrection and life (11:25-26); (6) way, truth, and life (14:6); (7) vine (15:5). All of the revelatory “I AM” sayings are contained in the chapters of John that we are studying this week. We cannot do justice to all seven of these sayings in the time and space we have. Instead we will delve a bit into three: Jesus as Bread, Light, and Life.
Jesus proclaims himself the bread of life in the midst of the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter six of John. Whereas the Synoptic Gospels focus on Jesus himself as bread during their Last Supper narratives, John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as bread not during the Last Supper, but much earlier in the Gospel during the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter six. Another singular note that John adds in his telling of the story of the feeding is that of contrasting Jesus as giver of bread with Moses as giver of bread when the children of Israel were fed with manna during their wandering in the wilderness. The Evangelist portrays Jesus as superior to Moses, in that Jesus himself is the bread of life (6:35), whereas Moses was merely the distributor of the bread of heaven that was given, not by Moses, but by God (6:32). This is one of many anti-Semitic notes that get struck in the Gospel of John, where Jesus, his words and actions, and the truth available to Jesus’ followers are held up as superior to the persons of Moses and Abraham, their actions, and the goodness available to their followers. In fact, Jesus proclaims himself (as the pre-existent Christ who existed with God from before the Creation) as having been before Abraham, even though Abraham was born some 2000 years before Jesus. “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
In John 8:12, Jesus proclaims: “I am the light of the world.” This saying acts as a sort of prologue and hint about the light that Jesus will give in the story that revolves around his healing the man blind from birth in chapter nine. Jesus heals the blind man on the Sabbath, and this stirs up yet another controversy between Jesus and Jewish religious authorities. They complain that Jesus can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath. Then an argument between the Pharisees and the man born blind (but now healed) ensues about whether it is better to be a disciple of Moses or Jesus, and whether Jesus comes from God or not. The story also has a sub-theme about whether there is a causative connection between sin and blindness (or any other illness, for that matter). Jesus maintains that the man’s blindness has nothing to do with sin—neither his own, nor the sin of his parents. Instead, the blindness was an opportunity for the works of God to be made manifest in this formerly blind man now healed. The story concludes with Jesus suggesting that he has come into the world to heal those who are blind, and to blind those who think they already see clearly and don’t need any healing. The story implies that among at least some Jews there are attitudes towards Jesus and the light that he brings from God which cut them off from God and blind them to the truth.
After raising Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples in chapters 13 through 17. These chapters do not focus on the meal itself, but on the powerful symbolic action—a sacrament really—in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet to proclaim that they are to love one another in just such a humble way of service as he demonstrates by reversing the hierarchy of teacher/disciple, by humbly kneeling and washing their feet. In a long discourse—often known as the “High Priestly Prayer”—Jesus interprets his actions for the disciples, teaching them that they should follow in his path by imitating his actions of humility and love. In John 14, Jesus proclaims that he himself is about to depart from the disciples to return to the Father who sent him to them. He promises also that he will return to them and take them to himself so that they can be where he is—namely with the one he calls, Abba, the Aramaic word for Father.
In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims that he is way, the truth, and the life, and that anyone who wants to come to the Father can do so only by/through Jesus. This is one of the tensest points in the argument that John’s Gospel wages about whether Jews who do not accept Jesus as God’s son and Messiah can be in good relationship with God. This verse implies that Jews who do not accept Jesus as God’s Son—God’s Way, Truth, and Life—cannot continue in relationship with God the Father. So the question naturally arises: why is there this ongoing polemic in John’s Gospels about Jews and their relationship to God? After all, Jesus himself and virtually all his original disciples were Jews. Why the tension and polemic? Through deeper examination of texts, archaeology, and what we know of the social setting of the ancient world at the time of Jesus, it has become clearer and clearer over the past few decades that the Jesus movement within Judaism caused a divide, and that it split an already divided Judaism even further. Jews who came to follow Jesus as Messiah were expelled from their synagogue communities, and the Jewish Christian communities that were becoming the church began to develop a polemic about Jews who did not believe in Jesus that increasingly regarded them as having a “less than” adequate relationship with God, or even a covenantal relationship that had become utterly null and void. To out it mildly, this was the beginning of a deeply sad and eventually disastrous course in relations between Christians and Jews. What started out as a nasty intra-familial rivalry eventually developed into two groups that expelled each other from the family of God, and regarded the other as out of God’s favor. When the church acquired worldly power—when the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, and began to favor it as THE religion of the Empire—Christians added civil power to their religious disdain towards Jews, the road towards deadly Christian pogroms and eventually the Holocaust was unwittingly laid out.
– Bill Rich
“Love” by George Herbert (1593-1633)
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
“I am the Bread of Life – Hymn 335" in "The Hymnal 1982"
"Jesus Feeding the Multitudes and Walking on Water" – c. 1386 - See Above
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