The bread of life
(see also translation in
Sermon, July 31, 1994, St. Andrews, Murray Hill, N.J. (USA)
Lord, you have the power to transform our ordinary lives into fires of
love so that others warm up and catch fire themselves. Let my words
and my life speak of your glory, and let them be a help to bring
people closer to you. Amen.
Before thy throne, O God, we kneel: Give us a conscience quick to feel,
a ready mind to understand the meaning of thy chastening hand;
whate'er the pain and shame may be, bring us, o Father, nearer thee.
Search out our hearts and make us true; help us to give to all their
From love of pleasure, lust of gold, from sins which make the heart
wean us and train us with thy rod; teach us to know our faults, o God.
For sins of heedless word and deed, for pride ambitious to succeed,
for crafty trade and subtle snare to catch the simple unaware,
for lives bereft of purpose high, forgive, forgive, o Lord, we cry.
Let the fierce fires which burn and try, our inmost spirits purify:
consume the ill; purge out the shame; o God, be with us in the
a newborn people may we rise, more pure, more true, more nobly wise.
(The Hymnal, No. 574)
Align your heart to the prayer of generations
I hope you all meant what we were just singing; I hope you used the
opportunity to align your heart to the prayer of countless generations
who wanted to be transformed into Christ-like people, genuine, full of
purpose, courage, compassion and love, and to be freed of all desires
that are an obstacle for this.
The primary passion of your life
I hope this is or will become the primary passion of your life:
That you become more and more aware of God - as Christ was aware of Him.
That you see God's closeness in times of joy and times of difficulties.
That you appreciate both joys and difficulties as God's correction
tools that allow you to grow into the personality God designed you to
Readings from Scripture
In the desert the whole community told Moses and Aaron they weren't
happy with them. The Israelites said to them, ''We wish the Lord had
put us to death in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat. We ate all
of the food we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert.
You must want this entire community to die of hunger.''
Then the Lord spoke to Moses. He said, ''I will rain down bread from
heaven for you. The people must go out each day. Have them gather
enough bread for that day. Here is how I will put them to the test.
I will see if they will follow my directions.''
''On the sixth day they must prepare what they bring in. On that day
they must gather twice as much as on the other days.''
So Moses and Aaron spoke to all of the people of Israel. They said,
''In the evening you will know that the Lord brought you out of Egypt.
And in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord. He has heard
you say you aren't happy with him. Who are we? Why are you telling us
you aren't happy with us?''
Moses also said, ''You will know that the Lord has heard you speak
against him. He will give you meat to eat in the evening. He'll give
you all of the bread you want in the morning. But who are we?
You aren't speaking against us. You are speaking against the Lord.''
Then Moses told Aaron, ''Talk to the whole community of Israel.
Say to them, ''Come to the Lord. He has heard you speak against him.''
While Aaron was talking to the whole community of Israel, they looked
toward the desert. There was the glory of the Lord appearing in the
The Lord said to Moses, ''I have heard the people of Israel talking
about how unhappy they are. Tell them, 'When the sun goes down, you
will eat meat. In the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you
will know that I am the Lord your God.' ''
That evening quail came and covered the camp. In the morning the ground
around the camp was covered with dew. When the dew was gone, thin
flakes appeared on the desert floor. They looked like frost on the
ground. The people of Israel saw the flakes. They asked each other,
''What's that?'' They didn't know what it was.
Moses said to them, ''It's the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
Here is what the Lord has commanded. He has said, 'Each one of you
should gather as much as you need. Take two quarts for each person
who lives in your tent.' ''
The people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, and
some gathered a little. When they measured it out, those who gathered
a lot didn't have too much. And those who gathered a little had enough.
All of them gathered only what they needed.
Then Moses said to them, ''Don't keep any of it until morning.''
Some of them didn't pay any attention to Moses. They kept part of it
until morning. But it was full of maggots and began to stink. So Moses
became angry with them.
Each morning all of them gathered as much as they needed. But by the
hottest time of the day, the thin flakes had melted away.
On the sixth day, the people gathered twice as much. It amounted to
four quarts for each person. The leaders of the community came and
reported that to Moses. He said to them, ''Here is what the Lord
commanded. He said, 'Tomorrow will be a day of rest. It will be a holy
Sabbath day. It will be set apart for the Lord. So bake what you want
to bake. Boil what you want to boil. Save what is left. Keep it until
So they saved it until morning, just as Moses commanded. It didn't
stink or get maggots in it.
''Eat it today,'' Moses said. ''Today is a Sabbath day in the Lord's
honor. You won't find any flakes on the ground today. Gather them for
six days. But on the seventh day there won't be any. It's the Sabbath.''
In spite of what Moses said, some of the people went out on the seventh
day to gather the flakes. But they didn't find any.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses. He said, ''How long will all of you
refuse to obey my commands and my teachings? Keep in mind that I have
given you the Sabbath day. That is why on the sixth day I give you
bread for two days. All of you must stay where you are on the seventh
day. No one can go out.'' So the people rested on the seventh day.
(Exodus 16:2-30, NIV)
When the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor the disciples were
there any longer, they themselves got into the boats and went off to
Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they had found him on the other side
of the lake, they said to him, ''Master, when did you come here?''
''Believe me,'' replied Jesus, ''you are looking for me now not because
you saw my signs but because you ate that food and had all you wanted.
You should not work for the food which does not last but for the food
which lasts on into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will
give you, and he is the one who bears the stamp of God the Father.''
This made them ask him, ''What must we do to carry out the work of
29 ''The work of God for you,'' replied Jesus, ''is to believe in the
one whom he has sent to you.''
Then they asked him, ''Then what sign can you give us that will make
us believe in you? What work are you doing? Our forefathers ate manna
in the desert just as the scripture says, 'He gave them bread out of
Heaven to eat.' ''
To which Jesus replied, ''Yes, but what matters is not that Moses gave
you bread from Heaven, but that my Father is giving you the true bread
from Heaven. For the bread of God which comes down from Heaven gives
life to the world.''
This made them say to him, ''Lord, please give us this bread, always!''
35 Then Jesus said to them, ''I myself am the bread of life. The man who
comes to me will never be hungry and the man who believes in me will
never again be thirsty.''
(John 6:24-35, Phillips)
Sometimes, something special happens in our life - God liberates us or
feeds us in unexpected ways. We are excited, and we want to
make it permanent, crowning Jesus as the king who serves our interests.
Later, when troubles come, we complain about the hardship God placed
before us, and, as the Israelites in the desert, we are inclined to
dismiss Him as our leader. 'You are looking for me,' said Jesus,
'not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves.'
Why are we looking for Jesus? Why are we in church?
The God of our liking
This would be a god of our liking (cf. Micha 2:11):
- he helps us to be successful;
- he adds to our respectability;
- he rescues us from oppression;
- he responds quickly to our complaints;
- he gives us bread without the need to work for it;
- and he is far enough away when we want to do our own thing.
But such a one-sided image is an insult to God; it has nothing to do
with the God pictured in the bible, the Ruler of the universe (Ps. 46),
the Lord over life and death (Psalm 90), the creator of blessing and
disaster (Isaiah 45:7).
A miracle of our times
One of the great miracles of God in our time was the fall of the
wall in Berlin a few years ago. In East Germany, the hope and the
relative freedom of the churches attracted many, and for some time
the prayers in some of their churches were mass attractions making
headlines in the newspapers. But their real God was revealed a little
later: 'Let the Mark come and we stay; but if not, we run away'
was the motto on their banners. The miracle happened;
God satisfied their greed, as he did for the Israelites. But if the
motives are wrong, such miracles come coupled with a curse:
You'll get so much that you get sick of it (Num. 11:20).
And now the churches are as empty as before.
Jesus wants friends, not admirers
Jesus is not interested in admirers or big crowds, he doesn't need
them to demonstrate his greatness. He has tender love for those
who need him, for whom he is life itself. And he is interested in
friends, in people who are available to him and with whom he can share
his concerns. But he frightens away people who come for secondary
reasons, who want his company simply to add an extra diamond to their
Signs are only pointers to a goal
The reply Jesus gives to his 'followers' clarifies the basic
misunderstanding. Essentially he says: This is not the way I
intended you to take things. The signs you have seen are just signs
pointing to the goal, they are not the goal itself!
The impact of external signs fades quickly
The striving for external signs of power and happiness leaves us
unsatisfied; the impact of what we have or have seen quickly fades
away and we are always hungry for more. A collector of sign posts
to a goal will never reach the goal!
Signs of power have their place as occasional shocks designed to
cause people to wake up and to reconsider the direction of their life;
but such signs have no life in themselves that would induce growth.
Real life brightens the day in good and bad times
Signs show the power of God, but not the life that he
gives, which refreshes us and brightens every ordinary day.
The real life persists through good and bad times, even through death;
it does not pass away but grows in us stronger and stronger.
This is why Jesus discourages people from looking for miracles, but
emphasizes over and over again the importance of striving for true
life, for life with an innate capacity for renewal and growth.
Life is trusting that God really cares
How can we find this life? We cannot get it by a tour de force; it is
'the work of God', promoted only by 'trusting him whom He has sent'
(v.29). Trusting his assurance that God really cares.
To be asked to trust may create anxieties. Especially if we consider
what Jesus asks us to do: Not to give first priority to what everyone
takes as important, not to worry about our future, but to rely on God's
generosity and love. Can we really trust? All our bad experiences with
people surface. We must be cautious!?
The signs of power God had shown the people didn't make them trust;
they made them curious, excited, but that only lasted for a while.
Trust is a matter of growth; only growing familiarity with someone
teaches us the extend to which we can trust him or her. And only
growing familiarity with God teaches us that we can really trust Him.
As a little child helps the father...
God does the real work in preparing our heart to trust Him more
and more; we can only cultivate what He lets grow. It is
like with a little child helping the father in the garden - what seems
like a big effort on the part of the child is probably offset by the
damage the child does by unwittingly trampling on the soil. But the
father appreciates the desire to help and shows his child how to be
careful and considerate. And in this way he prepares patiently and
actively for the day when the grown-up child loves to do the right
thing in the right way. And healthy children can hardly await the time
when they will be grown up!
'I am the bread of life' (v.35)
Why does Jesus compare himself to bread (as earlier in the gospel
to living water)?
Food must be digested to give life
Bread and water are basic necessities of life.
And if we want to get life through them they must be eaten and drunk,
digested, so that they become part of ourselves, naturally integrated
into our body. If we fail to do this because we don't eat, or because
we are too sick to digest what we eat, we'll starve and our life is
miserable. And if we eat and drink the wrong things, our health will
be affected, and our body will show it.
What is our spiritual food?
What is it that we eat and digest? The TV news, with their unhealthy
dose of disaster and crime we can talk about but not act upon?
Does it reflect in our personality, making us dull in our sensitivity
to what we could do where we actually are, with our family, our friends,
our neighbors, our work fellows?
Get eyes for the most healthy diet
Change to a more healthy diet! Get eyes for the things in life which
empower you to renew yourself. Study the life of people who have
reached something of what you want your life to be like, who radiate
love and compassion, wisdom and courage, patience and strength!
Put yourself into their shoes to find out how it feels to be like
them, what you can make your own. Nourish your desire to grow!
Digest Christ so that He becomes a part of you
Do you admire Jesus and his ability to love and care, to do the right
thing at the right time, to be so close to God that even the
impossible becomes possible for him?
Eat the bread of life, chew it to extract the nourishing value!
Absorb His word, his life, feel yourself into it, think about how to
translate His words and His life into yours, digest Him completely,
until Christ has become a part of you, naturally integrated into your
personality, so that other people notice and give witness to God.
The example of Abraham
Thousands of years ago, King Abimelech said to Abraham:
'The Lord is with you wherever you go' (Gen. 21:22). Isn't this what
we dream of, what sweetens our day when we notice it is true?
Abraham had eaten and made Christ his own. He made Him part of his life,
made Him his life. So the Lord was in him, and others could see it.
Make it your goal in life to achieve the same! Be not just a Sunday
Christian, but become someone who has absorbed enough Christ-like
substance to be a light for others.
Life open to us all
Jesus asserts that real life, intimate closeness to God, is
in reach for all of us: 'Whoever comes to me will never again be
hungry, and whoever trusts me will never again be thirsty' (v.35).
When we don't experience this, let us search for it. At communion, let
us take care that we not only eat the symbols of his body and blood,
but that in fact we eat Him, with a desire to make Him part of our
life, so that His life grows in us and we can bear real fruit...
Let us pray:
Lord, you know our desire to be close to you, and yet we too often care
more about being successful than about being with you, more about
complaining than about finding ways to show your love.
We like going with the crowd and avoid risking something for you.
We prefer to be involved with things we can show off with rather than
to find satisfaction in the unspectacular life faithful to you.
Renew each day our hearts and give us a spirit of love, courage, and
clarity that allows us to meet the demands of the day and to be a
mirror of your peace. Amen.
Gedanken zum Leben als Christ
Science and Faith
home page (http://www.mat.univie.ac.at/~neum)
Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)