[Jesus said] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:51-69 ESV)
It happens on occasions when I am surprised – and people are surprised by my surprise! – by the way we can see the same thing so differently. I recall once in a marriage preparation session being somewhat flabbergasted because the couple was flabbergasted at my teaching that marriage from the Christian perspective is for life – which is what the “until death do us part” phrase is supposed to indicate. “Oh no”, the lady said, “that’s not how we see things, we want to be together for as long as we love each other”. Commitments usually don’t have a use-by date. Now who knows what happens in the future but at any point in time our relationships and behaviour are based on principles, priorities, decisions and for religious folk we can add faith and belief which shape how we see life and how we live it.
In today’s Gospel we find many people being surprised and flabbergasted and, if truth be told, also somewhat uneasy, maybe even disgusted at where things where heading with Jesus. Their perspective on Jesus and living was becoming increasingly different to Jesus’ perspective of himself and relating to him.
All of John chapter 6 is an account of discovering differing perspectives. Jesus feeds over 5,000 in the wilderness – that’s the key – to strike the chord in Jewish history of God feeding people in the wilderness. The people want Jesus to be king. He says, ‘no’. The crowds, however, will follow him and they find him next in the Capernaum synagogue. They can’t work out how he got there and Jesus points out that they aren’t interested in what happens in a synagogue which is hearing God’s Word and praying, they want more food but Jesus tells them to hunger for and eat the spiritual food that comes down from heaven – which means God’s Word. The people, to give them credit, hear this and ask for it, while still hoping for actual food in their stomachs. Then things start to go strange because Jesus then points to himself as the ‘bread of life’. Jesus is emphatic. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
This starts a whole new problem because Jesus is linking himself with God and heaven – he’s saying he’s come down from heaven – and the hearers object. They know Jesus – his family tree and his upbringing.
The people do hear the links Jesus is making between him and God and instead of not going into controversy, Jesus keeps going – and you do that when it is the truth – the manna in the wilderness fed the body but death still came but the food Jesus gives leads to life that doesn’t end in or with death – eternal life – all because Jesus will raise them up on the last day. And the bread Jesus gives for the life of the world is his flesh.
This message simply explodes the brain – is ‘too much’ – is ludicrous, scandalous, and now gross. Jesus talks about eating flesh and drinking blood – his flesh and his blood – for eternal life. Thus Jesus dwells with those who eat and drink who will live because of him.
But people – all of us – have lines we don’t or shouldn’t cross in all sorts of areas of living. We live within parameters and boundaries. And so many of Jesus’ followers – not the curious crowd – those who had already aligned themselves with Jesus now felt Jesus had gone ‘too far’ and they no longer followed or listened to Jesus. So many departed, I think, that Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks if they are also going. Peter summarises the whole situation but also what humanity faces with regards to any claim about religion, about God, about spirituality which can be heard in such questions as: ‘Where is truth? On what is truth based? On what – why – should I believe what I cannot prove?’ when he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68,69 ESV)
Just as you can’t be partially pregnant, nor view a commitment that can be easily ended as a ‘real’ commitment, Peter’s reply recognises Jesus’ claim in an ‘all or nothing’ way. Jesus is either who he says he is or he isn’t. That’s what we face. Followers of Jesus do not necessarily understand Jesus totally, know Jesus completely, but they have discovered enough about Jesus to trust him and follow him – not as a Rabbi or guru or genie – but as ‘God among us’, the human face of God, the one who makes it possible for a holy God to come close to sinners and not obliterate them. Followers of Jesus can understand that the world can hear Jesus and believe that he ‘crosses’ too many lines of sanity; that what they believe can seem ludicrous but it is all or nothing for them. Jesus’ words – and the words about what Jesus has done in his public ministry, in his death, and in his resurrection – have eternal life and so they hear Jesus and follow Jesus – as best they can.
In that synagogue, Jesus was talking about the necessity to believe in him – to feed on God’s Word – that is, Jesus’ teachings. That is true for us also. Jesus is and has the words of eternal life.
But, of course, there is a creative wonder in God’s Word – it creates faith – and when John wrote this account, the followers of Jesus knew what Jesus did to the Passover meal by changing it into an encounter with him. Thus there is also a truth that for the followers of Jesus, eating and drinking has a sacramental meaning – food for faith – tiny morsels for strong strength – and a finding out that in Jesus our deepest hungers and thirsts are met. Our hunger for identity and self worth, our thirst for meaning and justice and hope, and the followers of Jesus are drawn again and again back to this table for the ‘antidote against death’ – all because Jesus is present – he says so. He is present as host and meal – so that we may live, now and always.
Jesus and his words are powerful. They create faith and they give life and nothing this world can do – nothing we can put in the way – can stop Jesus from loving and caring for us.
- John 6:51 - 69