Bread of life: losing nothing

bread-of-life-tabernacleA Missing Piece. The sequence of Sunday gospels does leave out vv. 35-41. The text from the 18th Sunday centers around Jesus challenging the people’s motivation for coming to Jesus. He tells them they only came to see more signs, eat their fill, but not really “work” for the bread that is eternal. The people not only do not understand Jesus’ point, but become bogged down in “what do I have to do to get it” as though they could accomplish this on their own talents and perseverance. Jesus response is that all one need do is believe – and the conversation returns to “show us another sign” and they up the ante – “and make it better than the one Moses did in the desert.” Dodd notes that “The ‘signs’ which the people expect from the Messiah are mere miracles; yet when they see a miracle they fail to see the ‘sign’; for to the evangelist a σημεῖον is not, in essence, a miraculous act, but a significant act, one which, for the seeing eye and the understanding mind, symbolizes eternal realities.” It is at this juncture that returns to the theme of “bread from heaven” only not the one, like the manna in the desert that will spoil, but one that last forever.

And we pick up last week’s gospel: 32 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Here are the verses that our Sunday gospel sequence does not include: 36 But I told you that although you have seen (me), you do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, 38 because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it (on) the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day.”

This text simply reinforces the midrash argument being brought forward: Jesus is bread from heaven, feeding all believers, in the same sense that Old Testament wisdom nourished all who accepted it (Prov 9:1–5). It is interesting to see this Sapiential wisdom played out in the chiastic pattern of the verses

A – seeing and not believing (v.36)
B – Jesus will not drive away those who come to him (v.37)
C –      I have come down from heaven (v.38)
B′ – Jesus will lose nothing of all that God gives him (v.39)
A′ – seeing and believing (v.40)

As O’Day [603] nicely points out: “John 6:36–37, and 39–40 present the delicate balance between the human faith response (vv. 36, 40) and God’s initiative in “giving” (didōmi) people to Jesus (vv. 37, 39). The key to maintaining the balance is expressed in v. 38: Jesus has come down from heaven (cf. 3:13) to make God’s will visible and accessible to humankind. Faith in Jesus is impossible without God’s initiating will for the world, but human beings retain responsibility for the decision they make in response to God’s initiative (cf. 3:16–21).”

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