John 6:35; 41-51 Bread of Life
As the Psalmist wrote: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
When I left school I went to work at what was then called the Sydney Water Board situated in Bathurst Street near Saint Andrew’s Cathedral. Often I would have my lunch in the square between the Cathedral and the Sydney Town Hall. It was common place to throw some bread scraps to the square’s pigeons. Sometimes there would also be seagulls in the square and they would join the pigeons in the lunchtime meal. It was fun to see how easily and how far the birds could be drawn by a piece of bread and it was a challenge for me to see how close I could draw the birds to me before they became too nervous to approach further.
You know some of the characters in today’s Gospel reading and Sydney Square’s pigeons and seagulls have much in common.
Now it is important to understand before we precede that when John speaks of the Jews in our text he is referring to the religious authorities and insiders, those people who opposed Jesus. John is not referring to the Jewish people as a whole, indeed possibly all those present were of the Jewish faith, including Jesus himself.
Today’s Gospel reading is set on the day following the feeding of the 5,000. The previous day’s crowd and perhaps some other people have followed Jesus. Most of the people following Jesus were drawn by the hope of bread, the type of bread they had received from Jesus the day before, the same type of bread that Sydney Square’s pigeons and seagulls sought. They had seen first-hand the power of Jesus and what He could give them; they had a good meal the day before and wanted another.
However once they found that what Jesus was offering had changed, at least in their minds, the Jews began to grumble.
Now Jesus said that he was the bread of life which has come down from heaven and that those who eat His food will never hunger. Indeed Jesus was revealing his true identity, but because of their prejudice against Him the Jews did not understand Jesus’ message of spiritual food, after all he was only a humble carpenter’s son, not the all conquering Messiah who they believed would come in glory.
The situation didn’t make sense to them, they understood what Jesus was saying, that he had come down from God, that He was the Messiah, but it just could not be true, they knew who his parents were, he could not possibly be who he was claiming to be, and besides His message wasn’t what they were looking for anyway, they wanted another meal of bread and fish, Jesus wasn’t who they wanted Him to be, so they grumbled.
The crowd was being drawn by bread to Jesus, but it wasn’t the work of God, instead it was their own desires for physical food that they followed, as the pigeons and gulls were drawn by their desire for food. Jesus understood this when he said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”.
Jesus bids the Jews to stop their murmuring and He advises them that no one can come to Him unless drawn by the Father. This motif of being drawn to spiritual truths is the one I would now like to explore.
The word “draw” is being used in one particular way throughout this scriptural text. The pigeons, the seagulls, and the Jews, all initiated their approach to bread as an object of physical desire, it was something they wanted desperately, so they took the initiative to go out and get it, a selfish and self-serving desire for immediate satisfaction.
The word “draw” in the original language of our text today, as attributed to the Father, has meaning altogether different to the conscious act of our own initiation. The same word for drawing is used when describing fish being drawn into a boat by a net. The fish don’t want to leave the water but they are pulled that way by the fisherperson.
God does not draw us to come to him with objects of earthly desire. Instead he draws us, even against our wishes, like fish in a net, via the spiritual realm of our true nature. Scripture informs that we are spiritual beings created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26) who should worship God in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23).
This picture of God drawing us informs that the approach of the human spirit to God, or Christ, is not initiated by humanity but rather is a response to a drawing initiative of Divine grace. This is the doctrine of divine initiative in salvation, and is a fundamental doctrine in John’s gospel.
A picture of God dragging us to himself kicking and screaming against our will may not be an appealing one. We would much rather think of ourselves as being in charge, and smart enough to choose God ourselves, but scripture speaks differently.
Romans 8 tells us that we are by nature hostile to God, 1 Corinthians 12 says that we can’t even confess Jesus as Lord without the Holy Spirit’s help, and Ephesians 2 says that on our own we are spiritually dead. Our text this morning informs us that Jesus said:
“no one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me and it is written in the Prophets (Isa 54:13) ‘and they shall all be taught by God’. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me”
The reality is that we do not approach God because we see Him as being so good to us, it is the opposite, left to our own devices we would run the other way, we can’t come to God by ourselves, God must, and does, draw us to Himself.
If this is hard to believe just think of all the excuses we can come up with in order to skip attending Church for some extra sleep, or forgoing bible study for watching TV or to read about sports and hobbies.
The Good News of course comes to us in the final verse of today’s Gospel when Jesus proclaims that his mission, and thus God’s mission, is to the whole world. So the whole of humanity, if looking through its spiritual nature can perceive God’s call, and we should submit to that call and allow ourselves to be drawn to God rather than resist Him for only the passing pleasures of this world.
So, the big question remains:
Are you going to become pigeons, seagulls, Pharisees or Sadducees, seeking only those things which belong to the earthly world, or
Are you going to listen to the call of God which draws you to himself?