John 6:51-69 BCP Evensong Trinity 14
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." :52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 6:53 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. :68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Have you ever heard the expression, 'You are what you eat'? In the United States there are some people who have health problems because of a diet of fast food and are suing the retailers, such as MacDonalds.
In today's reading Jesus is saying, 'You are what you eat - so eat me! This will not lead to health problems, but eternal life' 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
What was Jesus talking about? Was he talking about a literal eating of his flesh and blood? A symbolic eating of the bread and wine in the Holy Communion?
I think the answer to each question has to be 'No'.
The reason for this is that the Bible teaches that faith in Jesus, not religious ritual will put someone right with God. Jesus was not teaching about the physical, because he said that 58b "Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." This contrasts with the spiritual food of Jesus which brings eternal life, verse 54.
After all, we cannot imagine that God would accept someone into his kingdom because they had received Holy Communion more times than someone else. If so, those who win the eating competitions would be prime candidates for admission to heaven! The New Testament and the reformers taught that, to have any value, the Holy Communion has to be received properly, in repentance and faith to have any worth.
Jesus' claims to be 'bread' are centred on the cross. 51b. "This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Jesus was talking about his voluntary giving up of his physical and spiritual life on the cross. The physical pain of the crucifixion and the spiritual pain of the separation from God when Jesus took the punishment for the sins of the world.
Just as physical food is digested and almost comes part of us, providing us with energy and other things we need to live, so Jesus gives us everything that we need to truly 'live'.
Jesus says whoever has not eaten of his flesh and blood has "no life" in him (v. 53). And then whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood does have "eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (v. 54).
When Jesus speaks of 'life' in this passage he is not talking about physical life, keeping breathing. He is talking about spiritual or eternal life, a life lived in a right relationship with God the Father through the self-sacrifice of God the Son, implanted in the heart of the believer by God the Spirit. That is why we shouldn't follow the thinking of the Jews in the passage and think that Jesus was talking about literal or physical flesh and blood. Of course, this was something prohibited by the Old Testament Law ( Lev. 7:14, 26 ).
If we are to truly understand what Jesus means in this passage we must focus on the cross and our reaction to it, and to the one who died and rose again for us.
A number of years ago a 'plane crashed on an icy mountain top. Some people survived the crash, but soon ran out of food. They were faced with a decision. Starve, or become cannibals and eat their dead friends and fellow passengers. It was actually some time after they were rescued that they admitted what had happened. This incident was made into a film.
The Jewish crowd think that Jesus is suggesting that they become cannibals and eat his flesh and drink his blood. The early church had a reputation for cannibalism because they celebrated the Lord's Supper. Clearly the teaching of Jesus is misunderstood.
Jeremiah 15: 16 When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.
This is the type of imagery that Jesus is using. The idea of something, or somebody becoming part of our very self. Just as the goodness of food and drink flows into, and through, our bodies.
Chapter 6 shows the full cycle of people's response to Jesus. At first, excited by his miracle of feeding the 5,000, they tried to make him king. But Jesus escaped. The next day he rebuked them for having an interest only in physical concerns, not in spiritual truth . He used the miracle of the feeding to give an important lesson about himself, the bread of life. These words, however, so disappointed the sensation-seeking crowd that many turned away from him.
The crowd were not really interested in following Jesus. They were more interested in food, verse 26, Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
They were more interested in a political Messiah, verse 14, After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
They were more interested in manipulating Jesus to perform miracles, verse 30, So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?
They were not prepared to relinquish their own opinions and authority to Jesus.
As well as being offended by Jesus' cannibalism, they were also offended by his claims to be greater than Moses, sent by God, and his offer of eternal life.
But Jesus adds to this. 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!
Jesus is challenging them saying, 'If you think this is offensive you will be offended even more when you see me, the Messiah raised on a cross before I am raised to life and raised back to heaven.'
Not only did Jesus' words offend many of the crowd, they also offended many, so-called disciples, verse 66. The word translated 'turned back' refers to recoiling away from something, or someone, rather than a calculated change of direction.
It is clear that there were two types of disciples. There were those who followed Jesus around, perhaps intrigued and entertained by his teaching, eager to see miracles, and hoping that he might free them from Rome.
I think it was Mark Twain who said that the parts of the Bible that concerned him were not the parts that he did not understand, but the ones that he did.
These disciples said that Jesus' teaching was 'hard', verse 60. This does not mean that they did not understand Jesus' teaching. The problem was that they did understand it and it was too harsh and difficult for them to accept.
How we address difficult teaching is a true measure of our faith in God. We should work at trying to understand what the words in the Bible meant when they were first given. Then we need to understand how this applies to our world today and act upon them.
Augustine wrote, 'The faith will totter if the authority of the Holy Scriptures loses its hold on men. We must surrender ourselves to the authority of Holy Scripture, for it can neither mislead nor be misled.'
In verses 63-65 Jesus explains why some people will reject him and his message. A rejection that resulted in his death on a cross. The reason for this is God's sovereign choice. God has chosen to reveal himself to people and to reconcile some of them to himself through Jesus death and resurrection. 65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."
This should lead us to action in two areas.
Firstly, outreach. Telling the good news of Jesus to people to see if they have been chosen by him.
Secondly to let trust in Jesus transform our lives and persevere so we may show that our faith is genuine.
67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Jesus was asking this question expecting a negative answer. 'Surely, you are not going to leave as well ? ' might covey this better.
We live in a world that seeks life in many ways. Some people live to work, working long hours, neglecting their families, friends and health for the sake of work. Yet work does not last. Ask someone who has been made redundant or who is no longer physically able to work.
Some people seek life in material things. Possessions, the home, car, and holidays. Yet these things can isolate us from life, making us feel secure, until a disaster strikes and we suddenly feel very frail and helpless.
Some people live for their feelings. They want to feel better so they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or even bungee-jumping or getting fit.
Others may try to escape life by immersing themselves into a fantasy world of music television or films, thinking that this is reality. We see this in the way that television 'soaps' are taken so seriously by some so they are almost considered to be real. Sadly to many, they are more real than the relationships that people enjoy with their own neighbours.
This is not to say that having a nice car, going to a gym, working or watching television are wrong in themselves. But they have to be put in the right place. After Jesus.
68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
There is no alternative. No-one else to turn to. Jesus should be Lord and master of our lives. His teaching, which points to his life, death and resurrection, offers eternal life. True disciples believe and know Jesus. The belief is not merely an intellectual; acknowledgment that Jesus existed, was a good teacher, or was the Son of God. The belief is radical and has to involve an act of trusting in the words of Jesus, and handing over control of our lives to him again and again as we seek to follow him in repentance and faith.
Holy One of God' is a messianic title. But it also refers to the fact that Jesus was holy. The word means 'set apart'. Jesus was set apart by God to come to earth and die in our place on the cross. He was also morally set apart, perfect, and therefore, able to offer himself as a sinless sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. We know this is true because God raised him from the dead. If Jesus' claims were false, and he was not perfect, God would not have raised him.
During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, there was a shortage of currency in the British Empire. Representatives carefully searched the nation in hopes of finding silver to meet the emergency. After one month, the committee returned with its report. "We have searched the Empire in vain seeking to find silver. To our dismay, we found none anywhere except in the cathedrals where the statues of the saints are made of choice silver."
To this, Oliver Cromwell eloquently answered, "Let's melt down the saints and put them into circulation."