Scripture: John 6:51-58
There are many strange things in life, many of these things that I cannot explain. Like why did someone decide that it would be a good idea to soak perfectly good vegetables and meats in vinegar to form pickled products and then serve them? I know scientifically that the pickling process preserves the food longer, but that still does not answer the question as to what was going on in that person’s mind when they first did it. Since I am opposed to pickles and would ban pickles if I were elected the only thing I can come up with is that it was a dare gone horribly wrong and an entire culture developed around it and that culture eventually took their sour foods and conquered the civilized people that added sugar to everything instead. But that is my opinion and as much as I would like it to be, pickles are not ban in scripture, they are just a mystery to me.
I am sure there are other things that you have observed in life similar to this. We know that lifesaving drugs like penicillin were found by accident. Even the idea of the Wright brothers using a curved wing came from strange observations while they were sledding down snowy hills as children. These mysteries are what drive many people to seek knowledge. Penicillin was found because a scientist wondered why bacteria did not grow around the moldy crumbs he accidentally dropped in the culture while eating his lunch, so he looked into the mold which saved the world. I would actually have to say that even the pickling process would probably be a life saving discovery.
Mysteries drive us in one of two directions. They drive us to discovery or they drive us to ignorance. Depending on what our personality is and our preferences. In most cases either option is acceptable, but the discoveries get the honor. The mystery of life drives our children into seeking knowledge, could you imagine life without a child seeking to learn language skills, or without the ever present question of WHY? One of the greatest and most pleasurable aspects of life is to walk with a child into that realm of discovery as they investigate the mystery of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, a chick hatching out of an egg, or to see the joy of accomplishment of tying their own shoes. And nearly every one of us has spoken with short sentences in overly excited voices to a baby trying to get them to talk for the first time to us. Mysteries drive us, mysteries and the excitement of the unknown is what sparked the pioneering spirit to settle the land west of the Appalachian Mountains and west of the Mississippi River, it challenged our nation to send rockets and men to the moon, and to build robots and rovers to send us pictures from Mars. We live for a mystery because in discovery we have joy.
The most pleasurable mystery we engage is the mystery of relationships. The mystery and the discovery of others caused us each to look for or to choose our spouses. It is a mystery or challenge to know someone and to be known by someone in a way that is deeper than anything we experienced before. To find another that not only we enjoy being around but also that complements our personality and challenges us to be greater than we thought we could be alone.
I love a good mystery. I believe that that is why I have made many if not all of my life choices, the challenge of figuring out something new, the thrill of accomplishing a new skill. In my most recent job change I was asked in my interview why I wanted the position. My answer was honest, “I want to know what and how people think, and how to read them.” I just realized that the answer I gave and the reasoning in taking on a different role was based on mystery not pay or honor, but a mystery or challenge that in my mind I wanted to master. So far I am better able to read people but as to knowing what and how they think I’m still lost.
Mastering a mystery is where wisdom is found. Wisdom goes beyond just knowing how to do something; it is deeper than just knowing the correct answer. It is knowing something so intimately that it is part of you. Is it any wonder that the people we trust the most are usually the people that have experienced and lived the mystery we are encountering the longest, which is why Paul had to encourage Timothy to not let people discourage him because of his youth, it wasn’t that he was not an adult but he was not the oldest in that community.
I speak of wisdom and mystery, of intimacy and knowledge because that is really what is behind this passage more than anything. You might wonder where I am getting this from because on the surface it seems like Jesus is talking about having dinner, and if you want to be cruder, dinner where he is the main course. Which peaks the challenge of a mystery lover such as myself.
Bread is the staple of life. Agriculture is what really started mankind onto the pathway of civilization. Of all other creatures of the earth humanity is the only one that purposely manipulates nature to produce an abundance of food. They saw the value of plants that produced an abundance of seeds, these seeds could be used to grow more plants and the excess could be eaten raw, or ground into powders and manipulated into a radically different form of food, bread. There was a mystery about these plants and they observed that they shed their seeds at a point in the year, and then they began to grow at another. So they began to manipulate nature by gardening these seeds. They would then come back to these gardens and harvest; eventually they would stop roaming around and developed villages and cities around areas that grew the best crops. Bread is a staple of life and civilization, because our base nature is for survival and we live where there is an abundance of food.
This is one aspect of the mystery. Bread equals life because bread feeds us and fulfills one of our base needs. But that is not the total answer. If it was then Jesus would be done and we would again find him going off to pray in a desolate place or sailing to the other side of the sea. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I am. This is a statement that should not be quickly read over because Jesus is saying two things by adding those two small words to this sentence. I am, is the name by which Moses called the tribes of Israel to follow, it is the name by which God called Himself. God is the bread that came down from heaven. God is the source of life, the provider of the most basic of needs. God created the growing cycle of the grain, the interaction between the ingredients that go into the baking of bread, and the curiosity of the people that discovered the process. I am the living bread.
Jesus is also saying that He is I am. The Hebrew culture does not take those two small words lightly. They were not even spoken out loud. The pens used to write them down on paper had to be fresh, and then after they wrote those two words never used again, but in their language it is really only one world. Yet Jesus said I am the bread of life. He by His own words was saying God is the source of Life and I am that source. This caused people to question him.
He goes on to say, “whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” This is probably about where the mystery really takes hold. If He is the Bread and the Bread is the Flesh and if we are to eat the bread/flesh we get life? These words are hard to understand, but the way that they are used here and in other writings many scholars have found that there is something very different going on in this conversation. It is deeply relational and deeply intimate, it is speaking of the most intimate meal two people can share, the meal between a mother and a newborn baby. The mother provides food for the baby through her flesh. The baby lives by no other means than to eat of the flesh of their mother. In ancient times there were no other options, no formulas to supplement the nutrition for a baby it was all directly from the baby’s life giver.
I know that this is probably taking you by surprise because it took me by surprise. But if I Am is the living bread, the source of all life, then to eat of that bread is that intimate. Now can you see why there were some confused people standing around Jesus? Not only is he saying He’s God but the Mother of life. How will Jesus give that kind of meal?
Mysteries abound. In the beginning God created. He filled the void of what we call the universe with stars, planets, galaxies, and solar systems. Then he created a planet where he separated the waters into an atmosphere and seas, he lifted land out of the seas and on that land he caused plants and animals to grow. Then He said, “let us create man in our own image,” and He created man both male and female, a said to them be fruitful and multiply. Many things are going on in that short story. It shows that God created and he loved what He created, it also shows that God is relational Let us create in our image are both plural and relational words. And he created man, male and female, the image of God is that they can also be relational and create as well. Relationships lead to creation, and from creation emerges care, training, teaching and the passing on of wisdom.
Jesus is telling those that are listening to remember their own family and how that emerged, what is going on, and where it is going. The mothers feed the babies, then they grow and eat other foods, and then they begin to learn. The fathers are right there helping where they can and eventually they take the young boys out with them to teach them a trade, while the mothers cared for the girls and passed on their wisdom. There is intimacy and love, discipline and shared excitement as they walked through life together.
Jesus is saying that God is that source of life; He is where we gain the first foods that sustain us, He is where we gain the wisdom and knowledge of how to live and how to share life with others, and that life is found through Jesus. Jesus came to live that life for us. He came down from heaven to live a total human life with and for us, He gave himself to die on the cross to provide the way to redeem humanity, and he rose to life again to lift us out of the death our sins produce. He came to give life just as a mother gives life to a child. And if we develop an intimacy with Him we will gain a life that will never end.
What that means is still a mystery. It is a journey that each of us will have to take for ourselves. We come here to meeting of worship to encourage each other in that journey but each of us has to walk and develop the intimacy with God. There are many things we can do to encourage this relationship but ultimately it remains, just as in every relationship, that to deepen the relationship requires time spent together talking and learning about one another. That is communion in its purest and most intimate form. Prayer is like a mother singing a lullaby to a baby while it nurses, peaceful communion between a mother and a child. That is what this time of holy expectancy really is, us as God’s children coming to Him to find that nourishment to give us life and to listen to the sweet songs sung to us by the one that loves us enough to give His life for us.