Pentecost 14B 1 Kings 8:22-24, 39-43 Psalm 84 Ephesians 6: 10-20 John 6:56-69
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The gospel today brings the long dialogue about the bread of life between Jesus and the Jewish people to a close and next week we will again be listening to Mark.
John had already established that Jesus was in Capernaum, the current home of Jesus’ family, but now we learn that Jesus is in the synagogue at Capernaum and that more than likely the whole long discourse took place in a synagogue service. Did they use some sort of lectionary at the time which perhaps included the story in Exodus 16 of the manna in the wilderness and Isaiah 54 about God teaching everyone?
Why did Jesus go on and on about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, offending many of the Jews along the way?
The answer is in the reality of understanding who Jesus is, and why he had come to earth and what this means in our relationship with him.
In the days before Christ many people unlike the prophets of old, did not have a relationship with God and they relied on the prophets and priests to do all the negotiating with God on their behalf. Jesus has clearly shown us that a personal relationship is possible and is in fact essential to salvation. In life, decision time comes upon us with regular monotony. Our politicians shake up the pork barrel and we find them all scrambling for decisions. In this part of the gospel we find Jesus has made it clear that it is time to decide to be for or against him, even though he knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. We might ask, why then would he bother to go to such lengths to explain and teach. But we realise that God does not limit our freedom to decide one way or the other. As God, Jesus knows, but does not coerce.
He does all he can to help us understand and weeps over us if we reject him. Jesus did not stop teaching. In obedience to the Father who sent him, it was important for him to continue to teach the message to those who reject the truth. All people have free will and some might change their minds, as it is always God’s will that all be saved. This is something we can remember and not abandon those we know who at present do not listen to Christ. Today, in obedience to a resolution of General Synod, we remember and pray for refugees, and it is also good to remember that whatever happens to us, God never abandons us.
So let us look again at what John is saying about this continuing conversation between Jesus and the Jews.
Food mentioned in the Scriptures has value to sustain physical life, including the Old Testament manna, which kept the Children of Israel alive in the difficult situation of desert travel, but Jesus’ flesh and blood really is what food and drink should be in an ideal situation. They provide eternal life, and whoever eats and drinks, spiritually abides, and not only abides, but remains in Christ.
Jesus was teaching the people about the special permanent and living relationship he can have with us, that he has with the Father and that the Father has with him.
Whoever eats and drinks them Jesus insists, remains in me and I in him or her. That is why his flesh and blood really are spiritual food and drink. The verb used, meaning “remains” or “abides” is important in defining the relationship. This is a mutual indwelling which is not for practical reasons exactly reciprocal. But we as believers continue to be identified with Jesus; we continue as Christians, and continue in saving faith and consequent transformation of our lives. That Jesus remains in the believer, means that Jesus identifies himself with the believer, in help, in blessing, in life, and in personal presence by the Holy Spirit. We can never have life in ourselves. Jesus has and is life, but only because the Father has given life to Jesus, so, through Jesus we have life because we believe. There is no genuine spiritual life that can be independent of Jesus.
If all this was hard for the Jews to understand, we wonder what they thought when they saw Jesus on the cross later. This was Jesus’ way of ascending to the place where he was before, Eating flesh and drinking blood was enough to offend many but how dreadful was it to see the lifting up, the crucifixion of the Messiah. The moment of Jesus greatest humiliation is the moment of his glorification. This is Jesus’ path, through the love of the Father, of his return to the glory he had with the Father before the world was made.
How we respond to this determines our destiny
The Holy Spirit of Jesus gives spiritual life. Without the work of the Holy Spirit we cannot see our need for new life (John 14:7) All spiritual renewal begins and ends with God. He reveals truth to us, lives within us, and then enables us to respond to that truth.
When things get tough, in Jesus time, as in our time, people grumble and some opt out. With the promise of eternal life to be given, we wonder “why?” Perhaps some people may have realised that Jesus wasn’t going to be the conquering Messiah-King they expected. And he refused to give in to their self-centered requests. Jesus emphasised faith, not deeds, and some of his teachings were difficult to understand, and offensive to those who were set in their ways, closed their minds to new truth, and did not like change.
There is no middle ground with Jesus
When he asked the disciples if they would also leave, he was showing that they could either accept or reject him. Jesus was not trying to upset people with his teachings but was simply telling the truth. The more the people heard Jesus’s real message, the more they divided into two camps; the honest seekers who wanted to understand more, and those who rejected Jesus because they didn’t like what they had heard.
After many of Jesus followers had deserted him, he asked the 12 disciples if they were also going to leave.
Peter’s reply was classic.
Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
In his straightforward way, Peter has answered for all of us - there is no other way. Though there are many philosophies and self-styled authorities, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. The disciples were beginning to understand this and later after the crucifixion and resurrection understood even more.
As we grow in faith, we may be tempted to turn away because Jesus’ lessons are difficult. Will our response be to give up, ignore certain teachings, and reject Christ? Instead can we ask God to show us what the teachings mean and how they apply to our lives? Then can we have the courage to act on God’s truth, know Christ the source of eternal life, and stay with him, especially when we are confused or feel alone or the going gets tough? Can we in turn impart this understanding to the generations that come after us?