56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
During the past several weeks, the lectionary has been working it’s way through the 6th chapter of John. It begins with Jesus feeding 5000 by the Sea of Galilee and walking upon the water. Jesus then proclaims that He is the bread of life and whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes will never be thirsty. This wandering Rabbi enters into the synagogue at Capernaum and upsets the Jews in that community and unsettles his disciples because he preaching that those that eating his flesh and drinking his blood will have eternal life and be raised on the last day. Those who have faithfully followed the man from Nazareth said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
Have you ever dealt with difficult teachings?
- Multiplication Tables
- English Grammar
- A foreign language
- Historical information
- Scientific data
I am sure we have all had those moments
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Once again, it is easier for me to identify with the crowds who misunderstand and question Jesus than with Jesus himself. Because what Jesus has been saying, and what we have heard these past four weeks, is indeed hard to listen to and hard to understand.
- That Jesus is the bread of life?
- That he provides the only food which truly nourishes?
- That he gives us his own self, even his own flesh and blood, to sustain us on our journey?
These are hard words, hard to hear, hard to comprehend, hard to believe.
No wonder then, that many of those following after Jesus now desert him. But at this point we should be careful, as it’s just too easy to write off those who give up on Jesus as people too lazy or unfaithful to believe. But note that John calls these folks not simply “the crowds,” as in earlier passages, but rather “disciples.” The people in today’s reading who now desert Jesus, that is, are precisely those who had, in fact, believed in Jesus, those who had followed him and had given up much to do so. But now, finally, after all their waiting and watching and wondering and worrying, they have grown tired, and they can no longer see clearly what it was about Jesus that attracted them to him in the first place, and so they leave.
And who can blame them? More to the point, are we really all that different? I mean, who here has not at one time or another wondered whether you have believed in vain? During the dark of the night, perhaps, watching and praying by the beside of a child or grandchild in the hospital, wondering why he or she is so sick. Or in the early part of the morning, maybe, waking up alone and wondering why your spouse has left you. Or in the latter part of the afternoon, perhaps, while cooking supper and thinking about your family – so full of ill-will toward each other – and wondering why things have not turned out the way you hoped and whether they ever will.
At these times – and my word, but if we’re honest we must admit that there are so many of them in this life that we lead – at these times are looking for God, for some sense that there is a God, and can have such a hard time seeing God that we also are tempted to conclude that the promises we trusted were empty and the faith we once held was misplaced? Oh, perhaps we don’t renounce or desert the Lord openly,
- we just don’t make the extra effort to get to church regularly,
- or we reduce what we’ve been giving,
- are more reluctant to help others,
- or simply stop praying until, in the end,
- we end up just like the disciples in today’s reading.
And so I’d wager that the picture John draws for us in today’s reading may not a pretty one, but it is a rather realistic one. It is, in other words, a fairly accurate portrait of disbelief, with Jesus surrounded by folks who wanted to believe, who used to believe, who have been trying to believe, but have gone through the motions too long and have finally given up.
At the same time, though, John’s picture is also one of belief, of courage, and of faith. For as he writes, after many disciples drew back and no longer followed him, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ [And] Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
Where, I have often wondered, do Peter and the other twelve get their faith. Or to put it another way, what makes them different from all those who gave up on Jesus and went away?
Now, in asking this question we must, again, be careful. Because as easy as it was to write off those other disciples as foolish or faithless unbelievers, it is even easier to imagine Peter and the rest as flawless faith giants. And this, as each of the four evangelists point out, was simply not the case. These disciples were also plagued by doubt and fear, they suffered at times from an overabundance of pride and a lack of courage, and they, too, eventually deserted Jesus, and at the very time he needed them the most. So, if they aren’t smarter, or more faithful, or more courageous, or, in short, any better than the rest of Jesus’ disciples – then or now – then what it is that sets them apart.
One thing. Listen, again, to Peter as he says the words we say before the reading of the Gospel: “Lord,” he replies to Jesus’ question, “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter, you see, knew where to look. That’s it. That’s what makes him and the others different – it’s not their brains or the ability or their status or even their faith: they simply know where to look.
And once again, you see, we find ourselves all of a sudden right back in the middle of our discussion about the sacraments and the significance they hold for our life together. For as Jesus’ real presence in our world, the sacraments are the once place we may look and know for sure that we will find God in Christ there for us.
Now here I want to be most clear. This is not to say that God is not at work in other places in the world. My word, but as believing Christians we confess that this world simply pulses with the presence and activity of its creator: in nature, of course, but also in government, and family, in the work you do and the benefits you receive from the work of others, in our gathering together as families and as a family of faith. In all these places and more God continues to be both present and active creating and sustaining the whole creation.
And yet…and yet each of us knows just how difficult at times it can be to see God in these places. When nature turns violent or government goes corrupt, when the family is a place of discord and the church one of division, when all the things we usually count on come up empty and we no longer know where to turn, then we may hear the sacraments calling us back to see God clearly at work for us through water, bread, and wine, combined with God’s mighty word of forgiveness, acceptance, and life. Communion and Infant baptism express that it is God who chooses us for faith, discipleship, and salvation; without God, we have no power to claim these things for ourselves, or as John Calvin put it, “Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the church, that being engrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God.”
You see, here’s the thing: although God’s word is most surely apart of the liturgy and hymns, the prayers and our preaching, yet even in these important elements of our shared worship it may sometimes be hidden and hard to hear. Yet in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper God has bound God’s own self to the Word and through the Word to the simple, common, and ordinary elements of water, bread and wine – the very stuff of everyday life – so what we who are simple, common, ordinary, and everyday people may receive him with confidence.
So once again, beloved children of God, let me invite you to come. Come to God bind God’s own self to us in Baptism and come to receive again the earthly, particular, and powerful promise that God’s will stay with us, hold onto us, and love us forever.
Based upon Commentaries by Susan Hylen, David Lose, Scott Hoezee and Brian Petersen