Lectionary Year B
August 13, 2000
John 6:35, 41-51

Step II: Disposition


As genre for this pericope, I want to suggest a mixture of "Pronouncement Story" and "Johannine Discourse."

Pronouncement Story
The structure of John 6:41-51 bears great semblance to pronouncement stories of the Synoptic Gospels. It begins with "narratio," i.e. the setting up of the story by providing contextual clues (v.41 -- Then the Jews began to complain about him, because he said: 'I am the bread ... .'). The narratio is followed by "quaestio," i.e. a challenge or question (v.42 -- 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?'). Finally, the pronouncement story ends with "argumentatio," i.e. an--usual--extensive response to the challenge or question (vv.43-51).

Johannine Discourse (JD)
JD is usually distinguished by a sustained and unified character that is displayed in extended dialogues or monologues (cf. Synoptic Gospels--usually smaller saying units pieced together). The Jesus of John's gospel seems to be fully aware of his divine nature and mission (v.51 "I am the living bread from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever ..."). Furthermore, JD appears to concentrate on issues of christology and faith, i.e. the questions: Who is Jesus (the One sent from the Father)? What does it mean to believe that He is the Son of God? In JD, Jesus often engages an individual or a particular group in dialogue (v.43 Jesus answered them: "... " continued in v.52 The Jews then disputed among themselves ...). JD often starts out with a dialogue and ends up in a monologue that seems to lead deeper and deeper into the mystery of inquiry. According to Bailey/Vander Broek, Jesus' message becomes "symbolic and polyvalent, operating at more than one level." [This is a statement that the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida could not have said any better.] In this way of speaking, Jesus' discourse contains "oracles of self-condemnation" (the ego-eimi-sayings) that reveal, or at least legitimate, Him to be a divine spokesperson, or divine Himself.

[Bailey / Vander Broek. Literary Forms in the New Testament. Westminster / John Knox. 1992. pp. 114-121; 172-177]


- why are they (who is they?) talking about Jesus in the third person? why don't they address him directly with "you?" why not: "Are you not the son of Joseph?" (v.42)
- does the Johannine discourse possibly reflect confessional or homiletical language of a particular community?
- if so, how can we conceive of this specific "christology" today?
- how come that Jesus has the power to raise the person who was drawn to Him by the Father on the last day?
- on that day ... "They shall all be taught by God." Does this mean that day has come already, or does it mean that we are not taught by God yet?
- if we have not been taught by God, how can we be taught, then, by Jesus, the bread from heaven?
- how can a bread teach?
- is this bread "magic bread" that imposes eternal life upon those who eat it?
- how can a bread live (I AM the living bread)?
- bread, flesh, life of the world - how does this work?

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