“For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” John 6:33-42
We are continuing our study of the Gospel of John. One thing that is occurring over and over again in the Fourth Gospel is what some people in the past have seen as dualisms and they point to motifs like light vs darkness, spirit vs. flesh, Jews vs “the Jews,” life vs death, earthly kings vs the heavenly king, the individual vs the community, and law vs grace. But a true dualism is heretical because it assumes there are two really real but entirely opposite truths manifested in creation that are at war with one another. People who think that way believe that Light is really real while at the same time they believe that Darkness is really real — even apart from Light. They are right about the war. We were baptized to fight manfully as members of the Church, and we also fight individually, personally under the banner of Christ. But this is not a war in which two opposite, really real kingdoms are trying to destroy one another while claiming our loyalty. There is only one Kingdom and that is the Kingdom of the God who is God and the Conquering Lion of that Kingdom is Jesus the Messiah. The other “kingdoms,” those of the world, the flesh, and the devil are rebellious kingdoms and they are already doomed. They only exist because the really real Kingdom of God allows them exist for a time. Take darkness — darkness is really nothing at all except the absence of Light. Jesus said men love darkness because it hides their sins. Light is really real, while darkness is merely the absence of the light. Grace is not the opposite of the Law but rather the Law is a manifestation of grace. And yet the Temple Authorities in the Fourth Gospel expunged grace by means of the Law, so that when Jesus healed a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years on the Sabbath it ignited a firestorm among the Jewish ruling class. And those Jews of the ruling class who hated Jesus and plotted to have him killed — those Jewish authorities would have no existence whatsoever except that they were biologically children of Abraham. Biology does not determine whether or not one is in the Kingdom of God; biology does not determine whether or not one is in touch with Reality. When Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again he was saying that his biological birth as a Jew did not make him a true child of Abraham. Furthermore, in the Gospel of John the individual Christian does not fade away, absorbed into the Body of Christ as though the Church were a totalitarian community, but rather the Church is made up of individually, baptized people who are destined to become more and more distinctive in our identities from one another and yet we are already launched upon a harmonious trajectory that constitutes, not merely a community, but a living organism and a future of glory that will not end, but rather that will continue to flourish and blossoming world without end. The point is made over and over again by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: there is only one really real truth, goodness, and beauty that is and that is God the Blessed Trinity and all else depends upon God. There is only one Kingdom and that is the Kingdom of the God who is God and the Conquering Lion of that Kingdom is Jesus the Messiah. We either participate in God’s reality or we align ourselves with that which is in rebellion against God and reality itself. The rebellion is a hopeless, dead end ending in oblivion. If we keep that in mind we will understand Jesus’ reaction when they wanted to make he their king.
Chapter six is mostly composed of the sermon Jesus preached to the multitude that had followed him to Capernaum after he had fed them miraculously with a handful of bread and a few small fish. That feeding was not a trick, it was a bonafide miracle by which he multiplied the loaves and fishes till the whole lot had eaten their fill. The next day when they found him with his disciples in Capernaum he began preaching and the first thing he said was that they were doing the right thing but for the wrong reasons. It was right that they should seek Jesus, it was right that they come to Jesus. It was right that the multitude should seek some way to attach themselves to him in a more permanent manner. After Jesus miraculously fed the multitude he realized they would attempt to force him to become their King, the King of Israel, and he left them went to a mountain alone. It is right to come to Jesus since he is the God who is God and he is the only salvation there is; and it is right to seek some permanent attachment to him as well, but their manner of coming to him and the attachment they wanted with him was wrong, sinful, and destructive.
I take Jesus’ interpretation of the crowd’s motives for following him to Capernaum. They wanted a more permanent attachment to Jesus and the best they could come up with was to make him their King of Israel right then and there. A king needs an army and they were ready to follow him and purify Israel by shedding the blood of Romans and their own blood as well. From a few loaves and fishes Jesus could materialize sufficient food to feed five thousand people which is to say he fed a virtual army and if he could materialize food he could materialize anything an army might need.
Those who are drawn to Jesus in wonder and love whether by his miracles, his words, or his love are those make up his Kingdom — a Kingdom not of this world. He said that if his Kingdom was of this world then would his subjects fight to keep him safe from the Romans. But these are not men and women seeking the heart of Jesus, seeking the Shepherd of Love — these are men and women seeking an earthly kingdom, the kind of kingdom that Pilate could grasp and understand. They pled of our Lord that he would reveal to them what the work of God is that they might do, thus offering their services to Jesus, and without skipping a beat he tells them what he has told everyone else over and over again:
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
Please note that John dedicates the lion’s share of chapter six to Jesus’ interpretation of the miracle these people had just experienced and that explanation is that Jesus himself is the true bread and his blood is the true drink that every man and woman in the world deep within their heart desires and that desire is true and good. Jesus is the Bread that has come down from heaven:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
I pointed out last week that some would even say — Judas for example and most of the people who wanted to make Jesus their King — they would say that Jesus had failed to capitalize upon the opportunity presented to him when they wanted to make him King of Israel.
It is remarkable just how deeply the Jews believed that God would raise up a righteous army to liberate Israel from the Gentiles. Even after Jesus’ resurrection on the day of his Ascension, he gathered with his Apostles and disciples at Mount Olivet when out of the crowd of his sincere followers came the question recorded in Acts:
“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6
Some very bad ideas die very slowly. There are no true dualisms. Darkness is merely the absence of light. When men chose to live in the absence of light their lives become shadows of reality. The kingdoms of this world are legitimate only as they participate by the will of God in the reality of the Kingdom of God. When an earthly kingdom makes the God who is God its enemy they begin pretending to be their own gods then they become shadows of the reality they claim to be. If you want to be in touch with reality and to know the truth that will set you free then you must come to Jesus. Christians actually believe, just as Jesus believed, that his personal honor and glory is equal to his Father’s honor and glory. Jesus himself is our salvation, the Life, the Light of God and he outshines and outlast any other claim whatsoever to salvation and happiness. That means that the only reasonable thing to do is to come to Jesus and offer him all your loyalty, all your love, and all your life.