In the Lectionary

August 1, Ordinary 18B (John 6:24–35)

“Trust me!” Jesus says, and the more he says it, the less the crowd is inclined to go along.

There’s an old XKCD comic strip in which creator Randall Munroe explains why he tries not to make fun of people when they admit they don’t know something. “If I make fun of people,” he writes, “I train them not to tell me when they have those moments. And I miss out on the fun”—on the delight in others’ discovery.

After the umpteenth iteration of “he was in the world . . . yet the world did not know him,” one might be forgiven for wishing John could adopt Munroe’s attitude. The story of the crowds searching for the bread of heaven is yet another in which Jesus and his interlocutors talk past each other. It’s cringe-inducing, honestly. The people don’t understand because John doesn’t set them up to understand because this suits his book’s theme. Only a few of them, like Nicodemus, are recognizable as individuals. Mostly they are less their own characters than members of the chorus with an occasional solo line, dramatizing yet again John’s point that the world just ­didn’t get Jesus. Whatever initial charm there is in knowing more than they do quickly fades. As Munroe grasps, there’s only so much fun in slapping the dopes.

As he usually does, John ties the conversation in knots about signs and belief and misperceptions of who Jesus is and what his work means. The through line is that “the food that endures for eternal life,” or the bread of heaven, was a common figure for Torah in Jesus’ day. As bread feeds the body, so God’s ethical teachings feed the soul, and Jesus promises to make this spiritual bread accessible to all who want it. There’s just one hitch. The bread of heaven is Jesus himself, and to receive it, the crowd must believe that he has been sent by God to feed them with his own body and blood.