I stared down at the unappetizing brown glop simmering in an aluminum pot over a little white gas burner, watching as an older boy mushed water together with white powder then squeezed that white glop into the pot. I was eleven years old, it was my first Boy Scout backpack trip, and I was encountering dehydrated beef stroganoff for the first time.
I’d never had beef stroganoff before, so I was doubly unprepared for this concoction created of dehyrdated beef in a brown gravy with reconstituted sour cream mixed in at the end. A couple of my fellow young scouts took a look at it, turned up their noses, and went hungry that night. It was the only food we had. But I was too hungry. I gave it a try and found that it wasn’t too bad. It eventually became one of my favorite backpacking meals until the manufacturer quit producing it when completely freeze-dried meals took over the market.
Our text for this coming Sunday from John 6:35-51, shows some of those who listened to Jesus turning up their noses at the food He was offering. In effect, they turned up their noses at Jesus Himself, because He continued to expound the statement in verse 35 where we ended last week, “I am the bread of life.”
In response to the indignation expressed by His hearers in verses 41 and 42 at His claim that as the Bread of Life He has come down from heaven, Jesus pressed His claim further by suggesting that He is the only meal available. In verse 45, that amounts to saying that anyone listening to the Father will also come to Jesus, then in verse 46 that only He, Jesus, the one who came down from heaven has actually seen the Father. And finally in verses 49 and 50, the insistence that other food, even the miraculous manna received by Israel in the wilderness, does not cut it. Only the Bread of Life, only Jesus, offers eternal life.
Those who heard this originally were offended at Jesus claim to have come from heaven. In these times, the most offensive aspect of Jesus’s words is likely to be the claim of exclusivity, to be the only real bread available. It’s a tough sell in a culture used to picking and choosing from a large variety of physical nourishment, but from a variety of spiritual menus as well.
I don’t think we serve Jesus or our neighbors well by trying to soften the exclusiveness of His claims, but we can address some of that concern by remembering to voice our Lord’s own inclusive invitation. In insisting on His role as the only Bread of Life, Jesus meant to open eternal life to anyone who would receive it. That’s why in verse 51 He says, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
Let’s try to keep in sight both sides of our faith’s “exclusivity.” Jesus is the only meal available, but anyone is welcome at the Table.