I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

This is one of the greatest “I AM” statements in the gospels. Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus’ followers are constantly trying to figure out who he is and where he came from. And with this “I AM” statement Jesus proclaims to his followers who he is and where he came from—living bread sent from heaven.

But Jesus’ proclamation completely confounds them, they fail to understand his metaphorical and veiled language and they continue to ask for signs to confirm Jesus’ identity when Jesus is all they need, Jesus is the sign, Jesus is their everlasting gift; they just don’t see it.

They are hindered by their insistence that who Jesus is has to make sense to them; that it has to be backed up with evidence; that it has to line up with their established belief system. They have a series of conditions that Jesus has to live up to for them to believe.
But with this “I AM” statement, Jesus cracks open their world,
takes their beliefs and their calculations and their preconceived notions and stands all of it on its head.

But it wouldn’t be fair to condemn these followers and simply say they were blind and stubborn and always needed proof in order to believe anything. We have to remember that Jesus was considered the leader of a radical sect. Following him was already risky and took a certain amount of belief in who he might be. The people wanted to believe that their messiah had come, but were reluctant and cautious, and used the tools available to them to try and figure out who Jesus was.

If Jesus could stand up to their three measuring sticks of Scripture, tradition, and miracles, they would be convinced of Jesus’ divinity.

But time after time Jesus confounded them; they couldn’t box him into a formula that worked for them, and each time they walked away unconvinced.
And even when Jesus did fulfill Scripture, tradition, and performed great miracles time and again, the people couldn’t see it and failed to believe.

In last week’s gospel, we read that Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. And at this particular moment the people believed that Jesus was the prophet who had come into the world and wanted to make him king. But these same people in today’s gospel say to Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you” (John 6:30)? And this time Jesus responds “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And their response to Jesus is “Sir, give us this bread always.”

They continue to look for “food that perishes” and cannot separate physical bread from Jesus as the bread of life. They are confounded and cannot see Jesus—the greatest of signs, the greatest miracle, the fulfillment of Scripture—in front of them.
They look for signs to believe and when they get them they still do not believe.
Now, it is tempting to compartmentalize this situation.
The fickle and unbelieving disciples over here, and us over here.
We don’t have the same problems as these unbelieving disciples. We don’t require miracles. We believe, we “understand” what Jesus means when he says “I AM” the bread of life.

But herein lies the challenge for us. We can get complacent and allow the gift of Jesus as the bread of life, as the bread of our lives to become stale.
We become so used to this gift—we hear over and over that Jesus gives himself to us in the breaking of the bread; we feast on this bread Sunday after Sunday. And when complacency sets in, we start to rely on ourselves, on our ability to believe whether or not Jesus really is the Bread of Life that feeds us always. We might think to ourselves: “I haven’t seen any signs of God’s presence in my life lately…I think I might need another sign.” And so we pray and we seek to understand who God actually is in our life.
And we try to use our tools to determine who exactly Jesus is in our lives. “I’m hungry, maybe Jesus isn’t the bread of life after all.” And this is where Jesus takes us, confounds us and our tools, and puts us on our heads.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” I am the bread of life, given for you. I am the bread of life broken for you. The bread of life given to us as a gift. An everlasting gift. For you. For me. For all. Given freely.

Gifts don’t need to be understood. Gifts are undeserved and unasked for. Gifts do not come with a list of requirements.
Gifts are given and received freely. And we know the greatest thing we can do for the gift-giver is to receive the gift with gladness and gratitude.
Jesus’ response to those who sought to understand him, who sought to be satisfied by “food that perishes” who sought signs and miracles, was a promise, was himself, a gift. Bread of life. Freely given. Bread of Life. Given for all. Bread of Life. Given for us. So that we may never grow hungry. Amen.