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Lenten Reflections Project 2022

Sunday | April 3 | Ben Ewen

John 6:30-34

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
Bread is a staple in my pantry. I hardly notice my need for it except when the heels of the loaf are all I have for my sandwich. Even when I go to the grocery store to resupply, I'm numb to the options available to me. I would probably be upset if the grocer didn't have my specific type of bread among the myriad of other options. There are a lot of options! I don't have to buy plain white bread, but I can purchase sourdough, multigrain, potato bread, and even extravagant artisan bread whose quality we judge merely by the sound of the crust. (I only know this because of the film Ratatouille).

Bread is so common that it is overlooked, so it's interesting that Christ calls himself the bread of life (Jn 6:35) and draws on so many bread-related stories. If he wanted to get the attention of the people of Israel, why not talk about overthrowing Rome or why your local tax official is corrupt. But bread? It turns out God has a history of using bread with his people.

Jesus takes a staple of life—bread—an ordinary element and makes it extraordinary. Jesus reminds the people of the time God led the Israelites through the desert, caring for them, feeding them, and leading them post-Exodus from Egypt. When God provides in the Exodus, he gives a tangible gift: manna. God bends low and feeds and nourishes his people in a desolate place in this gift. A place of emptiness but somehow full of God's provision. Jesus recalls God's extravagant mercy in the simple gift of bread, saying, "I am the staple you've been waiting for."  Bread is such a simple but necessary element of the diet, and Christ says he is the bread—the basic unit of their longings, joys, peace, love, happiness: "I am what you are after."

"Sir, give us this bread always." (v34) We hardly recognize our need for staples. That's what makes them staples. They are necessary and prevalent. But Christ is not a luxury item we can go without; he is everything. Without Christ, there is true emptiness. Without Christ and the resurrection, we are to be pitied, says Paul (1 Cor 15:19). Our hope cannot be built on anything less.

But Christ is also extravagant. God stoops low yet again and feeds his needy people. This time, not with the kind of bread that will rot and wither, but with an everlasting bread.

The bread of heaven.

This bread is simultaneously the basic element of our longings and the extravagance of the longings we could only ever dream of. This bread walks with us and loves us with a love that will never fail. I, too often, see Jesus as merely ordinary and hardly extraordinary. If I think in terms of the "ordinary" Christ, I don't see him as a staple but taken for granted.

David Foster Wallace relates a story of the ordinary overlooked in an example of two young fish swimming in water. As they are swimming along, they pass by an older, wiser fish who greets them, saying, "Morning, boys! How's the water?" Their response: "What the hell is water?"

It's like this with me as well. In Christ, we live, breathe, move and find our being (Acts 17:28). The fish would suffocate without water and have become unaware of the grace that water brings them, just as I overlook the grace I am swimming in. "Give us this bread always" means that I must bring attention to the ordinary and extraordinary bread of heaven. May we have our attention fixed on the bread that is enough and also more than enough. He is the simple white bread that we need for our existence and, at the same time, the most extravagant bread we've ever held.

Ben Ewen is an assistant pastor at Grace Pasadena. He's a lover of good things, especially coffee and buckeyes.