Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: John 6:22-35
Nobody likes a know-it-all. The problem is that today, with the world at your fingertips, google but a few clicks away, you are all just a bunch of know-it-alls. And so am I. And here’s the problem with that; know-it-alls like us turn very quickly into card-carrying critics—because with five good minutes spent on Wikipedia, I can pretty well be an expert in anything, and then, a few more minutes to collect my thoughts and all my opinions, and I don’t really care about your credentials, your long experience or wisdom, the letters after your name, or whatever authority you might have. I am ready with my judgements, and you can read them on Reddit.
These days, I can sit back, relax, and log in, and then rate my doctor and my waiter, my coach and all my professors, my neighbors, my preschool and my church. You can even rate the people who write ratings, and I assume somewhere you can even rate me. It is one of the many unintended consequences of the digital age: for better and for worse, everyone is now a card carrying critic. No one is immune or above reproach, and even if you are the Son of God, who comes down from heaven to give life to the world, the critics will find you.
And we find in our gospel today that, actually, this is nothing new. Now the crowds who find Jesus today have a right to ask their questions (again, criticism is not always for the worse). “Rabbi, where did you come form?” “What sign do you do that we may see and believe?” “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Sort-of critical questions, but fair questions. Perhaps, even your questions.
“Dear Jesus, how can you expect me to trust you when I cannot see any reason?” “Dear Jesus, I could really use a work of God right about now.” “Dear Jesus, what should I do with my life; why can’t I just hear your voice?” You have a right to ask your questions, too—even if they are flavored with criticism, tainted with frustration, confusion, or pain. Jesus heard the questions and criticisms of the crowds and he can handle yours.
But remember this. The problem with the critic is not that he speaks out against what he sees as wrong, or even that he questions those in authority. The problem with all the critics is not their criticism. The problem is that, so very often, they stop with mere criticism. They are content to sit back and relax, and log in, and tell the world what they think, and their words—their harsh, often hurtful words—are only ever just that: words.
Their words never become anything more. They never rebuild what they tear down. They never come along side and help whom they criticize. They tend not to listen, really. And they never reach out in love, to mend what they see is broken. To use the terms of John’s gospel, the word of the critic is rarely a word become flesh.
Jesus answers his critics today and he answers their questions. In fact, he even has some criticism of his own: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me...because you ate your fill of bread.” “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” Jesus criticizes and corrects and teaches today and there is only one thing that keeps him from being just another critic.
In this Bread of Life Discourse, the question is, “What is meant by ‘bread’?” The crowds may well have thought Jesus’s ‘bread which endures to eternal life’ was the word of Jesus (some new instructions for doing the work of God, perhaps). This is how the prophet Isaiah speaks, likening the ‘rain that comes down from heaven which gives bread to the eater’ to the word of God.
But Jesus is the Word of God made flesh—he himself is the bread which came down from heaven, the bread of God, the bread of life. Jesus does speak to us today, and his word is good, even when it is critical, even when it calls us to repent of our empty words, of our loveless works, of our faithless hearts.
But there is one thing that keeps Jesus from being just another critic: the Son of God does not leave us with mere criticism. He is the Word of God made flesh, full of help, full of forgiveness, come to mend what he sees is broken. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” says Jesus. Whoever comes to him will find more than a sermon.
He will find God in the flesh, a God who can be found, born of the Virgin Mary, come to give his life (the very life of God) on a cross, come to invest himself entirely in the cause of our redemption. He comes down out of heaven himself, not to give you something merely to think about, but something for your hunger and thirst—to embrace you and save you body and soul, in flesh and blood.
May our church never settle for a sermon. May we love the word of God and gladly hear and learn it. But Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Let this place, then, ever be a place of eating and drinking—of feasting and of tangible love flowing out from the communion we share in the body and the blood of Christ. Let us gladly hear the Word of God ringing in our ears, and all the more gladly, let us receive it upon our lips.