John 6:35; 41-51
First Lutheran Church
August 9, 2015
Where you come from matters. I grew up in Springfield, Missouri—in prison. To be more precise, my dad was the chief surgeon and clinical director of the Federal Medical Center for prisoners, and we lived in houses on the grounds. I had no idea how strange that was until much later. Friends and family visited us. We had our birthday parties and Fourth of July picnics in our home and yard like normal people. The only difference was that people had to stop at the tower gate to identify themselves and state where they were going. No big deal. Where we come from matters. I come from a large and loving extended family where I not only know and love all my first cousins, I know and love their children. Where we come from matters. I was raised in the church by faithful and loving parents who brought my siblings and I to Sunday School and church every week. They taught us the faith, praying before meals and at bedtime. They encouraged us in our confirmation classes and youth group. They supported me through my seminary education and the many years I have been preaching and serving the Church of Jesus Christ. Where we come from matters.
This third installment of the Bread of Life discourse is all about Jesus’ origins. He said that he comes from heaven. He also came from Nazareth, which was well known. Those who knew him were offended by his assertion that he comes from heaven. Why does it matter where Jesus comes from? This question is the theological lens through which this portion of chapter 6 come alive.
The premise and promise of Jesus’ origins have been front and center since the beginning of the Gospel. Where Jesus comes from is the primary claim of the very first clause, In the beginning was the Word. In John, Jesus’ origins are not traced back to Adam as in Luke, or Abraham as in Matthew, but to God, God’s very self. Before the world was created, Christ, the second person of the Trinity is, in the beginning, with God.
Reinforcing the true origins of Jesus is all over the place in this portion of John 6. The reworking of the story of God’s provision to the Israelites in the wilderness illustrates that like God, Jesus provides. It also affirms that, like God, what Jesus provides is himself. He is both the giver and the gift. And like God, Jesus’ provision originates from the same place. The Greek word Έγόγαυξον—hegogauxon, literally means murmuring. The Jews in John 6:41 murmured against Jesus as the Jews wandering in the wilderness did in Exodus 16. But what were the murmuring against? The Jewish leaders connected the dots and figured out just what Jesus is saying—that he is the bread from heaven. But they know Joseph and Mary, they know Jesus is from Nazareth. They simply cannot square his claim to be from heaven.
In chapter 1 of the gospel, John establishes Jesus’ credentials further. John 1:18 says, No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. Jesus has seen the Father because he comes from the Father and he is God made flesh. The reason for the incarnation is for us to see and experience God in the fullness of relationship. Before Jesus, that was only possible up to a certain level. But since Jesus came into the world, when we know him we know God the Father.
Jesus is also interested in the peoples’ origins. He says, your ancestors, not our ancestors, in talking about the Israelites in the wilderness. It is his way of asking the same question of them that was asked of him. What are your origins? Jesus contrasts his origins to theirs, reinforcing that he comes from God in heaven. Just as the origin of the food and water for the Israelites was from heaven, Jesus himself as true bread and living water comes also from God.
He is, in fact, God’s very presence on earth. Heaven is both where Jesus comes from and where he will return. As a result, this story has the function of reiterating the theological sequence on which the plot of the Fourth Gospel is premised. It begins in the incarnation, moves through crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Jesus comes from the Father and will return to the Father.
In this portion of the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus says that where you come from matters, but how you understand your origins matters more. Jesus asks, where do you think you come from? How this question is answered depends on who is listening. For the Jewish leaders, their origins justify a limited imagination for the present activity of God in the Word made flesh. For the crowd, their origins are being recast before their very eyes, and they have yet to recognize fully what this might mean. For the community of John’s Gospel, and for the disciples, they begin to understand that their origins are now located in the promise of Jesus’ origins. Their past is now understood as the presence of God in Jesus’ love.
Where we come from matters. We draw on our origins to make sense of the present. Our origins have shaped the our identities, who we understand ourselves to be, how others perceive us. The whole point of bread from heaven is to make clear that Jesus as the Bread of Life is not only for our present and our future but also for our past. The past cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or erased. It can only be accepted. But in Jesus, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, our past does not need to be changed, forgotten, edited, erased or even accepted. Our past is recreated because we too are now children of God. The Bread of Life is the gift of life here and now, and the promise of life in a resurrected and ascended future.
Because of that, our past not expunged, rewritten or a source of endless regret. The Bread of Life teaches us to see the past for what it was, to tell its truth and to lean into the possibility that we can see a new truth about our own origins in light of our present and promised future. Where we come from matters. We are born, live and die under the grace and love of God through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, both now and always.
To God be the glory. Amen.