Good morning! Today we experience the beginning of what some people say is the best of John, and others say is the worst of John. Characteristically for this gospel starting today (John 5-6) and going forward, Jesus breaks into soliloquies that extend for most of a chapter or beyond. Today we also have the first “I am” statement, another consistent theme in this gospel that we’ll engage each day for nearly the next week.
Remember yesterday how Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well happened in Samaria, while he was on his way from Judea to Galilee? John 4 ends with Jesus doing another healing in Galilee, but now at the start of chapter 5 he’s on his way up to Jerusalem (again). This jumble of geographies shows that John cares less for a storyline’s rational arc, and more for theological insights which might come from it. Likewise, Jesus’ healing of the man who lay 38 years in the Sheep Gate is actually about his giving a sign for all who witnessed it—including the religious authorities—of his power to redefine the Sabbath. Note all the relationship terminology in the long speech that follows pushback from the Jewish leaders—Jesus calls God “Father” and himself the Son, which feels more familial than we’ve heard of him in other gospels. Jesus also claims equivalencies between Father and Son. Of course this would have sounded idolatrous in the ears of the Jews hearing it. As I read this though, John was less concerned about making a case to non-Christians; the gospel was written to teach and further persuade the converted.
The signs of Jesus continue in John 6 with feeding the 5000 and walking on water. Feeding the 5000 in this telling is not driven by concern for the people, as it is in other gospels. Here, they’re just arriving and haven’t been listening to him throughout the day, needing food as they prepare to go home. Instead, here Jesus desires to show unmistakable proof—another “sign”—that he is indeed the messiah. He also demonstrates power over nature in the walking on water, and when the disciples instantaneously reach their destination across the Sea of Galilee. Underscoring the importance of belief and faith for John, Jesus tells them that the work of God is to “believe in him whom he has sent”.
In the larger later portion of John 6, we hear the first of at least seven “I am” statements by Jesus. These are identity phrases that hold the unspeakable name for God “I am”, along with spiritual metaphors to help convey different benefits to his presence. The first one is here in response to the people who want more of the bread he fed the 5000. Jesus tells them: “I am the bread of life”, meaning he is a source of eternal satisfaction and freedom from hunger. When he uses the words “I am”, it’s as though Jesus’ veil of flesh flutters back for a moment and the crowd gets a breathtaking glimpse of the divine within. (Hear how different this is from the Jesus in Mark, who was cautious about saying anything too presumptuous about heaven?) No wonder that observant Jews, with clear commandments against idolatry, are scandalized by this. Jesus goes further, revealing one interpretation of communion in the early church when he says “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”, and then says that to eat his flesh and drink his blood is salvation. Though this teaching was difficult for the disciples to swallow (so to speak), Peter declares that Jesus nevertheless has “the words of eternal life”. Again, note the emphasis on words, faith and belief throughout this gospel. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 7-8. Thanks for reading!