Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Proper 14 Gospel

John 6: 37-51

Jesus said to the people, "Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day." Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

Reflection on John 6: 37-51 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

William Temple cogently suggested that John 6:22-71 presents a series of conversations that took place in different situations soon after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. The meaning of that feeding is further elaborated in these conversations. [Readings in St. John’s Gospel, pp. 78ff; London: Macmillan, 1952] As we saw last Sunday (Proper 13), the first discussion focuses on the Bread of Life who is Jesus risen. This “Bread” lives within us so that what we call “eternal” begins here and now rather than after our physical death.

“Eternal life,” which the Bread brings, is not quantity of time but quality in and beyond time, not later but now, not mine only but ours in community. John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47; 6:54 all claim that eternal life begins now in this life before we die. Eternal life is a quality of existence that comes into space-time from beyond space-time, and transforms here and now.

Wherever the Eternal has begun to reside within our space-time, there “The Age to Come” has already begun. Eternal life, as C. H. Dodd wrote, “is a life not measured by months and years, a life which has properly speaking neither past nor future, but is lived in God’s eternal To-day” (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, p. 150; Cambridge: CUP, 1960).

In the second dialogue (John 6:37-51), as Temple points out, the key phrase is the repeated one about “coming down from heaven” (p. 88). The phrase “coming down from heaven” metaphorically states that God is the source and initiator of Jesus’ incarnation. The statement “I am the living bread that came down from heaven”(6:51) is the gospel writer’s theological interpretation of Jesus’ essential message, and not necessarily the “ipsissima verba” (actual words) of Jesus. [See Temple’s clear discussion about the circumstance that “fact” and interpretation can hardly be disentangled. –Readings…, pp. xxii-xxxii, “The Johannine and Synoptic Picture of Christ.”] .

When this Bread came down from heaven, in other words, God’s redemptive purpose again decisively claimed humanity and the creation as belonging to God. “The Incarnation is not only an episode related to past and future as are other episodes; it is the appearance, in the midst of Time, of that Eternal Being in whom Time itself is grounded” (Readings…, pp. 88f.).

If the movement of descent inaugurates eternal life, then the movement of ascent consummates it. The refrain about coming down from heaven is matched by the refrain “I should raise it up at the last day” (6:39, 40, 44, 54). God’s redemptive action has, as these refrains state, its beginning and its consummation. In the incarnation this “Bread” came down from heaven, and at the end of time this “Bread” also raises up whatever otherwise would be “lost” (6:39). [Readings…, p. 89]

This “Bread” conjoins redemption and creation (“heaven” and earth), then, by incarnation from above, and by resurrection from below. The creation and the creatures are not the main point of this discussion. However, they certainly are the context here and now of the quality of life that the gospel describes as “eternal life.”

Everything depends on relationships, how we humans live under God among ourselves and among our fellow creatures. These living interactions either partake of “God’s eternal Today,” or they are part of what is being so distanced from God as to be “lost.” Eternal life is the main point here, and by definition it is not isolated from reality. Rather, it is the fulfillment of the “real” as God gave it to us. Eternal life, beginning as it does within the here and now, and existing from the outset on earth, is not escape from space/time, but the fulfillment of God’s creative purpose.

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Psalm 34 or 34:1-8
not available
New Testament Ephesians 4:(25-29)30 -5:2
Gospel John 6:37-51
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John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologan, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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