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Eat The Bread

Preaching the Parables
Cycle B
Eat to live or live to eat? We can eat to our salvation or damnation. At the beginning of the human race, eating led us into sin, separation from God, and judgment; in the end, we are promised that we shall eat from the tree of life in the presence of God who will eat with us. It is not, in other words, merely a matter that we eat, but what we eat. To live physically we must have bread (food) lest we die of malnutrition, but to live spiritually we must have the Bread of Life, which is Jesus, the Son of God, who gives himself to the world as spiritual food.

In America, thank God, we have plenty of physical food. By his/her seventieth birthday, the average American consumes fourteen steers, 25 hogs, three--and--a--half lambs, and 1,050 chickens. Each year the average American eats seventy pounds of bread. But to what extent does the average American eat the Bread of Life? Are we physically well fed but spiritually malnourished? Today's "parable" urges us to eat the spiritual food to be found only in Jesus Christ.


Context Of The Day
The Day is Proper 15. It is an ordinary day of the Pentecost season, and has no special event or doctrine to celebrate. Similar to last Sunday, there is no unifying theme of Lessons and Propers. The First Lesson continues the story of David's life. The Second Lesson constitutes another reading from Ephesians. The Gospel for the Day is the fourth lesson from John 6. And as usual, the Psalm refers to the First Lesson; it is a lament by someone who experiences distress, and David could well have written it because of his grief over the death of his son, Absalom. However, the Psalm is also related to the Gospel and the subject of bread: "For I eat ashes like bread" (v. 9) and "I forgot to eat my bread" (v. 4). The Prayer of the Day can be applied to the Gospel:

1. One of the "precious promises" is eternal life;

2. "Perfect faith," for which we pray, is needed to believe that eating Jesus as the Bread of Life will produce eternal life.

Context Of The Lectionary

The First Lesson. (2 Samuel 18:24--33) David weeps over the news that his son, Absalom, was killed.

The Second Lesson. (Ephesians 5:15--20) Because the days are evil, Christians walk wisely by making the most of the times.

The Gospel Lesson. (John 6:51--58) Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus leads to eternal life. The Gospels for today, and for last Sunday, are two of a series of five lessons dealing with bread. Last Sunday, Jesus identified himself and the Bread of Life, while today's Gospel would have us partake of this heavenly bread. It is one thing to have bread and quite another to eat it. The supply of "living bread" is adequate for all people, but unless it is eaten, people will spiritually die. Consequently, the two Gospels are dealing with the same subject: identification and consumption of the Bread of Life. Last Sunday we found the Bread; this Sunday we are to eat it for eternal life.

Another connection between today's and last Sunday's Gospel is that both contain controversy over Jesus' message. Last Sunday the people were upset over Jesus' claim that he came down from heaven like the manna of old; the people are again critical of his saying that they who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life.

Context Of The Scriptures
The "bread" of John 6 needs to be seen in the perspective of the Scriptures since even a cursory survey indicates that the bread of John 6 is not an isolated or independent subject.

1. Eve and Adam eat the food of disobedience (Genesis 2:17, 3:6; and compare Revelation 2:7).

2. Upon Abraham's request, Sarah bakes bread to serve to visiting men of God (Genesis 18:1--8).

3. Esau sells his birthright for a dish of food (Genesis 25:29--34).

4. The passover meal is eaten with unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15--20).

5. Yahweh feeds the Israelites in the wilderness with manna (Exodus 12:15--20).

6. Bread is offered to Yahweh (Exodus 25:23--30). "On the table there is always to be the sacred bread offered to me." Compare: God in Jesus offers bread to the world (John 6:41).

7. Having no food, David eats sacred bread (2 Samuel 21:1--6).

8. Taste the food: "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). Compare: "You have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (1 Peter 2:3).

9. Eat the Word and then speak (Ezekiel 3:1--3; Revelation 10:8--11).

10. Hunger for food tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:1--3).

11. Jesus provides bread for 5,000 (Matthew 14:13--21).

12. People who refused to eat (Luke 14:15--24).

13. Jesus warns against the yeast of the Pharisees - poisoned bread! (Matthew 16:5--11).

14. Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23--24).

15. Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of bead at Emmaus (Luke 24:28--32).

16. Jesus serves bread at an Easter breakfast (John 21:7--13).

17. Should Christians eat meat sacrificed to idols? (1 Corin--thians 8:1--6).

18. What happens when God comes to eat with us? (Revelation 3:20).

Context Of The Hymnal
Hymns dealing with the Bread of Life can suggest preaching themes. The Hymn of the Day, "How Blest Are They Who Hear God's Word" reminds us that the Bread of Life can be eaten through the preached Word. It is similar to "Break Thou The Bread Of Life." "O Living Bread From Heaven" reminds us that Jesus is the living bread. "For The Bread Which You Have Broken" leads us to be thankful. "Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face To Face" helps us realize that in eating the bread of Communion we enter into a mystical union with Christ. To invite and encourage us to eat the Bread of Life we may sing, "Draw Near And Take The Body Of The Lord" or "Let us Break Bread Together On Our Knees." Then we come to the Table of the Lord with a humble prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, We Humbly Pray." A review of the hymns dealing with the Word and Eucharist will not only suggest subjects for sermons, but will also put us in the proper mood and spirit for eating the Bread of Life.


Precis Of The Pericope
Jesus is speaking to the people assembled in the synagogue at Capernaum: "I am the living bread that came from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will always live. The bread is my flesh which I give to the world that it may live." This upset many people who angrily asked, "How can he give us his flesh to eat?" To this Jesus answered, "To tell you the truth, if you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and will be raised on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my body lives in me and I in him. Just as the living Father God sent me and I live in him, one who eats me will live because of me. I am the bread which came down from heaven, not like the bread the ancient Israelites ate and then died, but the bread that causes one to live forever."

Thesis: By eating Jesus one has eternal life.

Theme: Eat and live!

Gospel: Today's Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday's Gospel. The connecting link is verse 51 which ends last Sunday's Gospel and begins today's Gospel. Last Sunday's Gospel told us that Jesus is the Bread of Life that came from heaven. In today's Gospel the emphasis is upon eating this Bread of Life. If Jesus is the Bread of Life, then to eat it is to eat Jesus' flesh. This causes an irate protest on the part of the assembled congregation at Caper--naum as they objected to the idea that this man from Nazareth taught that eternal life depended upon eating his flesh.

v. 51 - Jesus is the living bread from heaven which, if eaten, gives eternal life.

v. 52 - Many people object to the idea of eating Jesus' flesh.

vv. 53--55 - To eat his flesh is to have eternal life; not to eat it means no true life.

v. 56 - Jesus lives in the person who eats this Bread.

v. 57 - As Jesus lives because of his Father, a person who eats Jesus also lives.

v. 58 - Eat only physical bread and you die; eat the Bread of Life and you live forever.

Key Words In The Parable
1. "Bread." (vv. 51, 55) Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as the Bread of Life. It is an appropriate term, for bread is a basic staple of the food on which one physically lives. As used here, however, bread is meant to mean more than rolls, biscuits, muffins, or croissants. In verse 55, Jesus says, "My flesh is food indeed." Bread is food, the entire meal, and thus Jesus is not merely one of many different types of food. Jesus is food for the soul and, as such, he is indispensable and essential for life. What kind of bread is he - "living" (v. 51), "from heaven" (divine), and unleavened (sinless)?

2. "If." (v. 51) This living bread of Jesus must be eaten: "If any one eats this bread ..." We usually eat because we are hungry. We may crave food and say, "I am so hungry I could eat a horse and chase the rider." A meal may be bounteous, but without an appetite we can only look at it and walk away. Food is meant to be eaten - just as a song is not song until it is sung and a bell is not a bell until it is rung. And because of hunger pains we become ravenous. Our problem is that we do not have spiritual hunger pains - or do we? Is prayer a spiritual hunger pain? Do alcohol and drugs indicate that we are spiritually hungry for true life? Are people going to various cults and sects because their spiritual hunger is not being met by mainline churches? Many people are spiritually hungry, in other words, but they are unconscious of it. If only God had given us spiritual hunger pains as obvious as our physical hunger pain!

Moreover, The Bread of Life must be desired because this kind of bread cannot be purchased at any price, or even earned. It is a pure gift of grace - "the bread which I shall give" (v. 51). To receive the gift of Bread, one must first desire it and ask for it, and then accept it by faith. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, "Take, eat." There needs to be a human response when Jesus offers his body for eating. We will take it if we are hungry for him.

3. "Eat." (vv. 51, et al.) "Eat" occurs eight times in this short pericope. We are to eat the Bread and thereby consume the flesh of Jesus. To eat means to take a personal experience of Christ into our lives as we take physical food into our stomachs. We receive him and join him to us so that we become one with him. A loving parent says to a small child, "You are so sweet. I think I'll eat you up!" and when we want a child's kiss, we say, "Give me some sugar." This is similar to what we mean by eating Jesus, the Bread. Christ thereby becomes personal, concrete, and physical. According to the Revised Standard Version, Psalm 34:8 says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" The Good News Bible translates this as "Find out for yourself how good the Lord is." Peter writes to his people, "You have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (1 Peter 2:3).

4. "Flesh." (vv. 51--56) The word "flesh" also occurs frequently in this passage - at least six times. What exactly is it that we are to eat? If it is simply bread, there is no problem. But Jesus says we are to eat his flesh. Since John does not give an account of the Last Supper, some scholars believe this passage is in lieu of the institution of Holy Communion when Jesus invites his Disciples to eat his body and drink his blood in the forms of bread and wine. How shall we understand this? Literally - in terms of transubstantiation? Symbolically - in terms of bread and wine as representatives of his body and blood? Or could it be both: the real presence of Jesus and the actual bread and wine? In next Sunday's Gospel, Jesus explains what he meant when he said that we are to eat his flesh: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail" (John 6:63). Can the spiritual presence of Jesus become identified with the material? It clearly did so in the Incarnation: "The Word became flesh ..." (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit comes into the physical bodies of believers, and the real spiritual presence of Christ can and does present itself in the forms of bread and wine. Through them, Christ comes into us as we eat and drink in faith.

5. "How?" (v. 52) As did the people in Jesus' day who heard these words for the first time, we also ask, "How can this man give his flesh to eat?" How is it possible for the bread to be bread and yet also be the flesh of Jesus? How can the wine of Communion also be the blood of Jesus? We must admit that we do not know the answers to these questions. It is a mystery of our faith. Yet we accept and use man things we do not understand and cannot explain. Do you understand how a microwave oven heats food without getting hot? Can you explain how a computer figures and remembers? Though we cannot explain it, we still experience the real presence of Jesus when we eat the bread of his flesh and drink the wine of his blood.

6. "Abides." (v. 56) In the Mystery Religions, eating the flesh of an animal sacrificed to a god was to also eat the god - to take the god inside you. In this way pagans believed they were "god--filled." In a similar way, when we eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood, he abides in us and we in him. As food is assimilated and then identified with the body, so Christ and the believer become one: there is a mystical union of Christ and the believer. This is what Paul meant by the phrase, "in Christ" - i.e., by taking Christ into us by eating him, we abide, remain, continue in him. It is a glorious, intimate, and personal union. We are then Christ--centered and Christ--saturated people.


What is there to proclaim in this Gospel lesson that was not proclaimed last Sunday on the subject of the Bread of Life? Last Sunday the focus was on Jesus as the Bread of Life, but today we look at the actual eating of the Bread for eternal life and salvation.

1. The fellowship of food. (6:53--57) There is more to a meal than food, and, in fact, food may be secondary to the fellowship formed around the table. We usually eat with another person because the guest was invited - e.g., as Jesus said, "Take and eat." It is a token of grace and goodwill to be invited to eat with others. Moreover, eating with others also signifies equality and acceptance, and for this reason Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners, for it implied his approval. In Joseph's day, his brothers had to eat by themselves, because Egyptians refused to eat with Hebrews (Genesis 43:32). In past years many American whites did not eat with blacks. A meal also means fellowship - a sharing of thoughts and feelings. It indicates friendship, love, and respect. A meal may even be a means of reconciliation - as it was when Jesus prepared an Easter breakfast by the Sea of Galilee to reconcile and reunite his Disciples.

2. The necessity of eating. (6:53--56) Some people live only to eat and they can easily become obese. In contrast, good Christians are to eat to live. Without physical food we cannot live physically, but a human is more than a body since each also has a soul that needs its own nourishment for life and strength. The supply of bread for the soul is Christ, and he is adequate and sufficient for every soul. We can be physically fat and yet at the same time spiritually "skinny." Before we can willingly eat, we first need to be hungry. Are we spiritually hungry and yet not know that we are? Do we feel that something is wrong, but not see that we need Christ within us? How then can we get Christ in us? The answer is given us today: we are to eat him and drink his blood. By so eating him we may possess him so that he will dwell in our minds and hearts.

3. Ways of feeding the soul. (6:52) The people asked, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" How can we feed our souls with Jesus? Jesus is the food for our souls because that food is in the Word of God and Jesus is the Word that became flesh when he was on Earth. While he is in heaven, the Word is in the Scriptures, and when we read them, therefore, we feed our souls. When the Word is proclaimed in classroom or in pulpit, the Word feeds the souls of listeners; when the Word is offered in the Sacraments, then the recipients of Baptism and Holy Communion are fed with the Bread of Life. In each case, we are eating the Bread of Life for the strengthening and the very life of our souls.

4. The times of eating. In the Gospel today, there is no mention of how often we are to partake of the Bread of Life. Are we to conclude that we need eat only once in a lifetime, or is it meant to be a daily experience? We eat physical food three times a day and if we only miss one meal we feel abused. Does not the soul need the same constant nourishment as the body does? There is to be a daily eating of Bread by Bible reading, and the soul can also be fed weekly when we worship and receive the Word orally. Many churches provide the sacramental meal on a monthly basis and the trend in some denominations is to celebrate the Holy Communion each week. Feeding the soul is indeed a daily necessity if we are to grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ.

5. Thanks for the meal. Today's pericope is related to the institution of the Lord's Supper. Since the Upper Room experience, the church has eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of Jesus through the Holy Communion. This is known also as the Eucharist, a Greek word for "Thanksgiving," and therefore, the consecration of the elements is called "The Great Thanksgiving." When a meal is over, courtesy demands that the guests thank the host and/or hostess, and for the heavenly feast, we are similarly grateful - for the spiritual food, for the fellowship and oneness with Christ, for the forgiveness and reconciliation, and for the presence of Christ himself.

6. This is the life. Life is a main theme of today's Gospel as Jesus urges us to eat in order to live. This calls, however, for eating the right food. Eat only physical food and eventually you will die but also eat the spiritual food which is Christ, the Bread of Life, and you will live forever. In this passage the emphasis is on spiritual life, not physical. This bread is a "living bread" because Christ is life itself. Jesus referred to his "living Father," for God is life, and people who eat the heavenly bread receive eternal life now. This is what Christianity is all about: life. Jesus said he came that we might have life. Death is humanity's greatest enemy: not physical death which is natural, but the spiritual death which is separation from God. This is life - to know, to believe, to accept, and to serve Christ.

Homily Hints
1. Holy hunger. (6:51, 58) How shall the spiritually hungry be satisfied? It is the business of the church to spiritually feed people. This can be done - only under the following conditions:

A. People must be hungry - "If" (v. 51)

B. Bread must be available - "I am the living bread" (v. 51)

C. Bread must be distributed - Word and Sacraments

D. Bread must be eaten - "Unless you eat" (v. 53)

2. Hunger of the heart. (6:51, 53) Unless we are hungry, we will not eat. Are people hungry for Christ - for the life he alone can give? Are we trying to satisfy a hunger we do not understand by indulging in drugs, alcohol, sex, and cults? We may feel lonely, unfulfilled, and isolated. Something is lacking in life and we are hungry for the fullness of life. We need to recognize the hungers of our hearts -

A. Hunger for help through prayer

B. Hunger for God's presence - Psalm 42:1--2

C. Hunger for forgiveness

3. Why eat? (6:51--58) Why do we eat? Merely because it is meal time? Because it is a habit? Because we receive an invitation to dinner? Christians, on the other hand, have very good reasons for eating the Bread of Life -

A. Eat for food (spiritual) - v. 55

B. Eat to live - v. 54

C. Eat to be one in Christ - v. 56

4. You can live forever! (6:51--58) No one really wants to die. There is a force in all creation to live, and we struggle against every obstacle in order to live. Several times in this passage we are told that we can live forever -

A. We eat "living bread" - vv. 51, 54

B. We have a "living Father" - v. 57



1. The commonality of bread. Bread is so commonplace - almost everyone eats bread at least daily. This can be a problem for preachers. How can anyone say something new, different, or creative about bread? Preaching this Sunday's parable demands a special creativity.

2. Controversy. The subject of bread and its relationship to Holy Communion is controversial today, and it was also in Jesus' day. When he spoke of himself as bread from heaven, many of his listeners were critical and offended as he appeared to be a human being just as they were. Later he called upon them to eat his flesh and this aroused even more opposition and angry disagreement, since it sounded like cannibalism. The Holy Communion, in which we eat his flesh as bread and drink his blood as wine, is still a sore subject of controversy in the church. We can agree on many doctrines: we can support practical programs of service, but we will refuse to commune together. At the last convention of the World Council of Churches, for example, one denomination separated from the others to have its own service of the Eucharist. Lutherans agree with Roman Catholics on the doctrine of justification, but are not as yet allowed to commune at Roman altars. In dealing with today's Gospel lesson, therefore, we need to be aware of its controversial nature in today's churches.

3. Interpretation. Another problem presented by today's "parable" is the interpretation of "flesh" and "blood." Is it to be taken literally or figuratively? The people in Jesus' day took his words literally, so when he invited them to drink his blood, he was violating the Jewish prohibition of drinking the blood of animals or of humans. In Leviticus 17:14 blood drinking is forbidden: "For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, 'You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood.' " Blood is considered the life of the creature. To drink blood is to take the life of another person into oneself. Later, Jesus explained he was speaking figuratively about his body and blood: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Before preaching on this pericope, a preacher needs to come to an understanding of the meaning of the text.

4. More than bread. There is a tendency to understand the Bread of Life as only bread, as one item of a meal. However, it needs to be made clear that "bread" represents the entire meal. We need no food other than Jesus since he alone can feed the soul. As the Bread of Life, Jesus is the Word made flesh, the incarnate Word. As bread, the Word is served in several ways: in proclamation, the Bread of Life is broken and distributed to hearers; in literature (the Bible) the Word as Bread is eaten by readers; and the Word is eaten and received visibly in the Sacraments. The physical bread of the Eucharist is the Bread of Life, while the Word is spiritual food for hungry people.

Points Of Contact
What connection is there between modern people and the eating of sacramental bread: Where is the relevance? Are we talking about something that is a part of people's lives?

1. It is one thing to have bread and another to eat it. People know of Jesus as the Bread of Life, but how many have "eaten" him, really taken him into their lives to the point that they are "in Christ" and Christ in them? For some, Christianity is a formal, external matter taken as a matter of tradition, custom, or habit. Today's Gospel reading calls for a personal and intimate union with Christ.

2. The quality of life is more important to people than its mere quantity. The pericope frequently mentions that eternal life comes by eating the Bread of Life. The quality of life is also expressed in "eternal," however, because it is life of God and Christ that has no ending, for God is life and cannot die. In this "parable" then, we are dealing with a fundamental need and desire of people. In spite of this, in the average Protestant church in America approximately forty percent of the members neglect the reception of Holy Communion year after year.

3. This passage is considered to be John's version of the Last Supper. It is related to Holy Communion with the faithful eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood in the forms of bread and wine. The subject of Communion is still discussed in today's church. Questions like these are being discussed:

Should infants be given Communion?

Should children before Confirmation receive the Eucharist?

Should the Lord's Supper be administered every Sunday?

Should lay persons be permitted to administer the elements?

Should the common cup be used in the light of AIDS?

Illustrative Materials
1. Daily bread. The commander of a local army post received a complaint from one of the soldiers about the bread being served. The commander snapped back at him angrily, "If Napoleon had had that bread in Russia, he would have eaten it with the greatest delight." "Yes, sir," replied the soldier, "but it was fresh then."

Jesus has us pray for "daily bread." A fresh supply of manna was sent to the Israelites every day except on the Sabbath. Spiritual food is needed daily.

2. Who feeds your soul? An obese student was confronted by his professor for his low grades. In the course of the conversation, the professor remarked, "If you would feed your mind like you feed your body, your grades would be better." The student replied, "Yes, sir, but you feed my mind and I feed my body."

3. Bread of consolation. A pastor tells about his mother's custom of going to a bereaved family with a loaf of homemade bread and a hug. Later, when the family felt like talking, she went back to listen to their expression of grief.

4. Problem of distribution. Not every country is capable of feeding itself. In the United States we produce enough food to feed over a billion people, yet 25 million Americans are hungry. One tenth of our population goes to bed hungry, mostly children and the elderly.

Jesus shares his bread: "Take, eat. This is my body."

5. What can we do? Some fifth--grade pupils in California were asked by their teacher what they would do to reduce world hunger. "What can we do?" retorted one little boy. "We're not actors or pop stars."

But we are Christians with the Bread of Life!

6. Eating flesh. A few years ago, an airplane filled with people crashed on a peak in the Andes Mountains. While waiting for rescue, some froze to death, while others were in danger of starving. The few survivors related how they were forced to eat the flesh of dead passengers in order to keep alive.

7. Leftover Communion bread. In 1986, the World Methodist Church had a convention in Nairobi, Kenya. The Holy Communion was celebrated. Seventy loaves of bread were ordered for the service, but 25 consecrated loaves were not used. What to do with them? After the service, leaders gave the remaining bread to guards, security personnel, and to the homeless and hungry walking the streets in search of food. While giving the bread, a leader said, "This is the body of Christ, shared with you by Methodist friends from around the world."

8. What holy bread can do. The young associate pastor had recently been assigned to her first parish and was directed to visit a nursing home and administer the sacrament of Holy Communion to an elderly woman. Arriving at the nurses' station, she was told, "It's no use going to see her. She doesn't even recognize her children." Forewarned, she entered the room and found the woman gazing out the window, babbling incoherently. Deciding to do her duty, the pastor began from the Prayerbook and continued, though there seemed to be no comprehension on the part of the old woman. "What an exercise in futility," the young woman thought. And she wondered if anything at all was being heard. Only once did the drone of the elder lady's voice change. As the elements of the Lord's Supper touched her mouth, she stopped making noises long enough to swallow them. The young pastor finished with the prayer of thanksgiving, and was readying herself to leave, when the old woman suddenly rolled over in bed, turned to her, and said, "God really does love us, doesn't he?" Something obviously had gotten through, triggering a memory planted long, long ago.
- Stephen C. Butler in Pulpit Digest, 10/86, p. 78.
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