So, wrote the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero in 63 BC. The debate over a break down in authority and younger generations becoming ever more-ready to defy social codes and understanding seems to have been raging ever since. Jesus was not immune from this and answers the criticism of the Pharisees and the Scribes about his disciples not observing ritual washing, by pointing out that what truly matters is knowing and observing the word of God, not the word of man.
Deuteronomy means ‘repetition of the law’ – Moses was stating God’s will to give his people another opportunity to make a fresh start. This edict follows a familiar pattern: instruction followed by promise. Observe God’s law and will for your life and you will enter the land He has prepared for you. We might not have a new physical land to move into, but we all have territory that we need to take control of in our lives. Worries, habits, lifestyle choices that God speaks over us with love and says; ‘I have something better for you than this .. let me help you enter it.’ God desires that we experience victory in our lives, but that victory is dependent upon us responding to his guidance and his will. He warns us of the dangers of adding to his word or subtracting from it. There is no ‘God Light’ or ‘God Plus’ version of His word. There is His word. But to experience the life that God has promised us, we need to know his word and for that, there is no shortcut. We need to know it and then to choose to follow it. When we try to miss bits out we don’t like, or avoid things that we think irrelevant, we get into a mess and fail to experience what we need to at that time. I’m reminded of the mess I get into when I take a shortcut at Ikea and get hopelessly lost!
There is a promise of wisdom in following God’s directions. When we follow God’s laws we are blessed, and this blessing will always reveal itself in our lives. God’s promise is that His word makes a difference to us – the way we view life, understand life, live life will be noticed by others. When we live our lives with God and for God, our lives automatically become attractive. What a wonderful consequence of a decision made. James reminds us of the power there is in being ‘doers’ of the word. If we want victory in our lives, then we need to listen and act. We need to hear and follow.
I was speaking to a gentleman in his mid 70’s last week who came to faith about 10 years ago. He was full of the life and light and joy that knowing Jesus brings, but acutely aware of just how much fun and opportunity he had missed out on in the decades that had gone before. God does not want us to be ‘if only’ people.
Moses reminds the people that they must be careful not to forget what God’s will is for them and to ensure that the younger generations learn of His goodness. Teach them to know what you know. Pass on the truth of what you know. Do not forget God. Do not allow the truth to fall from your lives. It’s all far too important to be left to chance. But first … we need to know it ourselves. Read it, listen to it, talk about it. There is only one Gospel and we must not allow it to become altered or diluted in any way. God’s desire is that we live our lives in the freedom and victory of following His word – his whole word - for our lives.
With the Lord’s blessing
Ever had that situation where you’re hungry but don’t quite know what for and so you begin opening the cupboards and fridge, hunting for something that will satisfy that urge to eat? For me, when the breadbin is empty, it usually ends up with something that’s not particularly nutritious like salted peanuts, cake or crisps. Bread is such a staple. When it’s not there we notice it.
The context to our reading from John is that the crowd have had their physical appetites fed by Jesus with the miracle of the two fish and five loaves. The magnitude of this event must have seared itself into the memories and imagination of those present and because of it many are now following Jesus and his disciples around the countryside, eager to see what he might do next. Jesus understands their interest is in a free meal but emphasises the need to understand that our spirits need feeding just as much as our physical bodies. You know what I’ve done .. but do you know who I am?’
‘I am the bread of Life’ is one of seven ‘I am’ statements in John’s gospel that relate to the identity of Jesus. Each in their unique way shows us a precious insight into the life that God has prepared for us. A life of fullness, prosperity, love and hope. Jesus shows us what true life looks like and invites us to step into it. He reminds the crowd that God understood the needs of their ancestors receiving the manna in the desert - bread in the morning and meat in the evening; but just enough for their daily needs. They couldn’t stockpile the blessing. They were to rely on God as their daily provider. God wanted to be so much more than a heavenly slot machine – his desire was for a living relationship with the people, that they might trust him and seek him for help and sustenance rather than rely on their own strength. Jesus reminds them that physical food will sustain them for a short while only. What is needed is ‘living bread’ that will last forever.
In a hungry world, many do not have enough to eat. Our bodies require food to remain healthy and to survive but Jesus reminds us that our spirits also require feeding and if they are neglected they will also die. It is through accepting who Jesus is and what he has done for us that secures our eternal life. Although, ‘food poverty’ is increasing at an alarming rate in western countries, even those who enjoy a satisfied stomach are desperately hungry but don’t even know what they are hungry for. So many billions are working harder and working longer and desperately feeding themselves with what the world has to offer yet remain desperately malnourished, dissatisfied and disillusioned with life. Is this all there is? And Jesus cries out to the crowd then and cries out to the world now … No. You have heard of what I’ve done, but do you know who I am?
What the world is offering isn’t enough and never will be. Jesus says, if you’re hungry and want real satisfaction, then feed on me, discover who I am and experience LIFE. But just like the crowd we so often want to experience God’s power but not the person. We want the miracles but not the man. We want the crown but not the cross; the blessing and not the perceived burden of a relationship with the only one who could ever make sense of our existence.
For those who do not yet know the fullness of Jesus in their lives, Jesus is the bread of life. For those who do know the fullness of Jesus in their lives, Jesus is the bread of life. He says: take me in, trust me, know me, enjoy me, experience me for I am for you. You are the reason I was born, and you are the reason I died and rose again. Know me and know LIFE. Jesus satisfies every need we have, ever have had or ever will have. No matter what your personal need is right now … forgiveness from the past, freedom for the present or hope for the future; Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life’ – take me in. Why not take Him at his word?
With the Lord’s blessing.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale