Series B                                                    Pentecost XI             August 12, 2012

John 6:35, 41-51

“WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS?”

 If you want to cut someone down to size, there are several ways to go about it:  belittle their job; criticize their intelligence; make fun of the way they look; or ridicule their humble beginnings, by reminding them, and others, that there is nothing outstanding in their back-ground, that their parents were very ordinary folks, that they can boast no royal blood.

The latter is what some of Jesus’ hearers were doing on the occasion recorded in today’s Gospel.  Just the day before, Jesus had performed a miracle feeding the 5,000.  But when they came for more he told them,

“I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”

 

and again,

“I am the bread that came down from heaven”

To this the people seemed to respond, “Who does he think he is?”  They ask:

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How can he now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven.’”

Who does he think he is?  That’s a good question.  A better one would be: “Who do we think he is?”  Because it is as important for us to ask as it was for the people of Jesus’ day.  It would have been more respectful to phrase it as, “Who is he?”, but Jesus is gracious enough to answer even when people grumble, “Who does he think he is?”

He is, on the one hand, the son of man.  In Luther’s words, he is “true man, born of the Virgin Mary”.  Yes, people in the days of his flesh knew his father and mother.  Yes, Joseph was his earthly father, but we know Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, then carried to full term in Mary’s womb; so that he was born as we were born.

Although his critics in the crowd that day did not fully understand who he was, they were essentially correct in identifying him as the son of Mary and Joseph.  They saw that as a limiting factor.  They saw that as a means of cutting him down to size.  How could he be so great?  Who does he think he is?

Later, in the early church, at about the time that John’s Gospel was written, there was a group who taught that Jesus could not have been both God and man.  If he was God, if he had come down from heaven, he could not really have been man; he could not have had contact with humankind or the rest of creation.  Anything earthly, they said, was evil.  If he was man, that would make him as evil as the rest of us.  They, too, were trying to cut Jesus down to size.

But Jesus and the scriptures do not see his humanity as a limiting factor at all.  It is not something to be despised.  Far from belittling him, it testifies to his glory.  We can rejoice that he became one of us.  That doesn’t diminish him.  That testifies to his greatness; that enriches our lives.

Jesus is unlike any prophet the Jews ever encountered before.  Prophets were anointed to proclaim things from God to the people.  Jesus tells us He is God, come down from heaven to tell the people about himself.  And what he tells us is that what we truly need, He is.  Paul explains what Jesus is trying to tell us in his letter to the Ephesians  when he writes:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places …”

A pizza parlor employee in Rome was assigned the task of delivering a pizza to the Pope in Vatican City.  Since he didn’t have a car he flagged down a taxi.  The traffic was horrendous and the taxi driver had great difficulty getting there.  Finally arriving; the delivery man disappeared with the pizza and returned.  The taxi driver, wanting something for all his trouble, said, “Give me half of what the Pope gave you.”  The delivery man lifted his hand and, starting at his forehead, made a vertical movement down to his chest and then stopped.  The Pope gave him the traditional blessing, the sign of the cross, for a tip, and he gave half of it to the taxi driver.

God does not give us half a blessing.  Paul tells us that He blessed us with EVERY spiritual blessing.  Because of that Paul tells us in today’s Epistle that we should be imitators of God because that blessing makes us God’s own children.

If we truly can believe that we are God’s children, then we must believe that God will take care of us.

A couple of weeks ago I held the funeral for a member who survived a heart transplant at John’s Hopkins Medical Center that saved his life three years ago.  And things were looking so great as his body got stronger.  At his last checkup the doctors lowered the amount of anti-rejection medication he was taking because his body was accepting this new heart so well.  And then suddenly he was found to have cancer and three weeks after that he was dead. 

Apparently the anti-rejection medication had a side effect.  It also prevented the body from rejecting and attacking these cancer cells that invaded his body.  Although it is difficult to understand such tragedies, and find words to say, we are assured that Jesus understands; he died when he was only 33.  Who does he think he is?  He is true man; we can find hope in that.

But that is only the first part of the answer to the question, “Who does he think he is?”  Jesus is what God means by man and what man means by God.  He is God; he is the Son of God.  He could say, “The Father …sent me”  He could say, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever”  He is the bread of life — eternal life.

While Jesus’ hearers that day stumbled over the question of who he was, he admonished them not to complain among themselves by saying:

“No one, can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.”

 Who does he think he is?  Each of us is faced with that question.  He is not only one who understands death and dying; he is one in whom, by God’s power, we are enabled to believe and by whom we will be raised to eternal life.

He is the bread of life, that living bread sent from heaven

“…whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

AMEN