16 August 2015

John 6:51-58

“I am the living bread” (v. 51)

Psalm: Psalm 67


John chapter 6 gives us an extended discussion of the sign of the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-15) - a story that is reported in each of the four Gospels. As so often in John's Gospel, we move seamlessly from the report of the words and actions of Jesus to a meditation in which John develops his own understanding of Jesus. In this short section the story is linked with the big themes of the Old Testament. The wandering people of God, the coming kingdom and the deep meaning of Jesus' life and ministry all belong together. So what at first looks like a simple story about loaves and fishes now sheds light on the past, present and future of God's bountiful provision. You will find that these few verses make most sense when they are read in the context of the whole chapter.

Looking back, this passage reminds us of the story of the gift of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) when God averted the threat of starvation by miraculously feeding the fleeing Israelites. What God did then, God can do now; as Jesus draws together a renewed and expanded people of God, there is another miracle of feeding.

And it's not just that ancient story of the Exodus that relates to this passage. There is also the Christian experience of eating together as they share the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist. Early Christians were sometimes accused of cannibalism by opponents who misunderstood their language of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. For John's Gospel, that language is all about how our lives are inextricably and intimately bound up with that of Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Here, we anticipate the great banquet when people from every nation will sit down with the Messiah in his kingdom. The opening verses of John's Gospel, familiar to us from being read in Christmas services, announce that "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1). Though they might have understood them differently, both Jewish and Greek readers would have acknowledged the truth of this. What was more shocking for both was the later statement, "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). It is this that brings us to the distinctive belief of Christians.

To Ponder

  • What have been your experiences of transforming meals?
  • How might our celebration of Holy Communion help us celebrate our intimate relationship with 'the Word made flesh'? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.