oldest fragment of John
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come buy and eat!
Come buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”
The fifth word comes after a long section on Jesus as the bread giver and Jesus as the bread of life.
It begins with the great crowd who had followed Jesus out to the wilderness. We worry if our people have to walk from the far end of the parking lot, but these people left home and traveled to the wilderness to see Jesus on the far side of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus gave a test to the disciples. “How shall we feed this crowd?” They had no money. The best they could do was a boy’s lunch. That was so small that to share it was insignificant. That is, until Jesus changed the arithmetic.
He had the people sit down in groups and he blessed the lunch and began to divide it. God multiplied the loaves and the fish so the people had more than enough.
This sign was clear. If Caesar can offer bread and circuses, this man can make bread out of nothing? So they rose up to make him King by force.
This is very impressive ministry. Jesus drew the crowd by his teaching, and he fed the crowd, tending to their felt needs. They saw his power and wanted to make him King over their lives. Surely this is the point where John will write, “and they lived happily ever after.”
Instead, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness.
Later after the crowd found Jesus again, now on the other side of the lake, they came to him. Here began a dialogue between Jesus and the people.
“What must we do?” they asked. Jesus said to believe him.
“What sign will you do to make us believe in you?” As if the feeding was not enough sign. Moses gave manna day after day in the wilderness, could Jesus give daily bread to them?
Jesus answered that he was the true bread was that which gives them life.
They asked for the bread, and Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But….you still do not believe.”
The crowd began to murmur about this man whom they knew from childhood. He grew up right around this place. How could he say he is the bread of heaven?
Jesus made it harder for them, he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…..This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.”
They were stunned at these words, and he made them harder to accept. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you….”
The disciples even began to waver. “Who can accept this teaching?” they said to themselves.
Then many of this numbered crowd left. He turned to the Twelve and said, “Do you want to leave too?”
Simon Peter answered, and this is our fourth word:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I can only imagine what Jesus would have heard from the consultants, the denominational officials, the financial officers and the workshop leaders if this were a contemporary story:
“All these “seekers” had overcome obstacles that should have kept them away. We really will have to address the issues of accessibility and publicity as well. But they had come a great distance. And it was a good idea to feed them. People feel comfortable eating, and it shows concern for them. You met them at their felt-need.
But why were you so negative? Why did you say things that were so hard to understand? Why did you offend their sensibilities? Why did you drive them away? We will have to work on your communication skills in the future.
You had them in the palm of your hand. Do you know how rare it is to have the people united around anything? But you threw away this opportunity. I suppose it is not to late to repair the damage……”
The only thing I can imagine that Jesus would say to these men is what he said to the Twelve:
“Do you want to leave too?”
All this conversation had to do with bread. America has led the way in ruining bread. It really started with bleached white flour. Before WWI white flour was gotten by screening out the part of the ground wheat that was not wanted – all that dark gritty stuff in whole wheat flour. In order to be able to transport and store flour in large quantities for long periods of time, white flour was also bleached. This bleached flower was fine and could be stored safely for months.
The trouble is that wheat, as God created it and man developed it by his cultivation, was a pretty complete food. Within the grain was starch, oil fiber vitamins and minerals. The process of sifting out the white from the whole wheat leaves the fiber and the oils out. The process of bleaching what is left removes all the remaining vitamins and minerals. The result is a form of starch and little more.
This flour after the war was put on the commercial market and the result was Wonder Bread. Now what is wonder bread? It is made of bleached white flour. We all learned in the school lunch room that a kid can squish a slice of wonder bread down to a very small ball of dough. In order that this bread can be nutritious, the vitamins and minerals that were removed in the process of making the flour were added back in. Thus we have a bread with vitamins and minerals that build bodies in twelve ways.
What God gave us we changed, stripped of it’s original value, made it more convenient and profitable and added back in some of what was lost.
We Americans have led the way in doing the very same thing to the Bread of Life. We have taken Christ, and the Scriptures and found ways to make them more manageable. We have found how to store them in larger quantities and to gather them in larger amounts. To do this we have had to remove some things. We have removed the offensive and the uncomfortable. The stuff that is dark and gritty. Then because what we have left is so lacking in God-given nutritional value, we add back in artificially produced vitamins.
We have produced large churches where people can not possibly know each other by name or face, and so we create artificial fellowship groups, care groups, community groups and discipleship groups to put back in what was taken out.
We have turned these large churches increasingly into audiences. And so we have to develop measurement tools to find the gifts and personality profiles of those we try to recruit into leadership.
We have taken out the Old Testament for the most part, along with the hard sayings of Paul and Jesus on judgment and holiness. We have extracted from the books God had written little booklets of 6 to 8 lessons, principles, or sermons which give us crumbs off the loaf.
Jesus would say to us as well, “do you want to leave too?,” except that we have already mostly left.
Jesus knew the crowd for what it was. After his popularity began, it is written, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in man.” 2:24,25
That is why he departed when they wanted to make him king. That is why his answers were difficult. He did not want easy mis-believers. He wanted those who would come to him because in him they could find the words of life.
The problem for pastors is this. We do not want to offend people by our own style or words or methods. Yet we can not avoid the offense that is caused by the Word of God itself. How do we discern the difference between our offense and the offense of the Gospel?
Elsewhere Jesus had confrontations with the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The Pharisees were rigorous rule-makers. They liked to make rules in addition to the rules of scripture. If God said not to work on the Sabbath, they developed and defended hundreds of other rules to interpret God’s word. But Jesus said, to them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.” Mark 7:8,9.
In another place he said, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
Those who want to make the burden of receiving Christ light, and who want to make the taste of the Gospel sweet, have warned us against laws and commands. However, Jesus did not say that there were no commands or laws to present to the people. He said that the Laws of God should not be added to. What God has given should not be made burdensome. He said, “My burden is light.” Even so, there is a burden. His issued commands: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
We should not be against the demands of discipleship, but only against those we have made ourselves.
The Sadducees had no time for Scripture. They were upper class power brokers. The High Priests came from their ranks. The religious rules and squabbles of the common rabble were not for them.
Some of them came to Jesus with a sophomoric question, about marriage in Heaven. He told them off: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the Power of God.” Mt 22:29
We in the church who want to be power brokers, and who long to be seen as professionals who deal only in excellence, are constantly tempted to diminish the Scriptures. Quoting the Bible has less punch with the powerful people and the beautiful people than quoting a song or a scholar.
The only tools we have are ourselves, yielded as instruments of righteousness, the Word of God and prayer.
If the word is sharp, we shouldn’t try to dull it down or it won’t be able to do it’s work. If the word is tender, we should not be callous toward those who need to hear it.