Scripture: John 6:56-69
“Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’” – John 6:66-67
In the age of constant media, social media, 24/7 connectivity to one another via the internet, information is constantly at our fingerprints. We can learn about news from across the world just moments after it happens. Amidst all of this information there is a glut of advice, information and wisdom concerning just about any question, any problem or any specialized issue. Want to know the best trick for losing weight – there are a hundred-thousand experts giving you contradicting advice; how about being happier – again a multitude of people will tell you to do this or don’t do that to be the happiest you can be.
The internet and our constantly connected culture has made it possible for the self-help industry blossom, with exemplary teachers, preachers and experts a dime a dozen as we search for wisdom and advice to live our life by.
This search, or even thirst for knowledge and wisdom isn’t new – in every generation of human history, people have looked for guidance and wisdom to live their lives. This was just as true in Jesus’ day, a fact we see from the great crowds who followed him, often hanging on his every word. Sure many of them were happy to benefit from his miracles, whether it was healing, or the crowd who was miraculously fed at the beginning of the sixth chapter of John, that we have been working through over the last 5 weeks – but they saw in Jesus a great teacher.
Many people today see Jesus as just this, a great teacher who provides excellent wisdom and truths about life, the universe and morality. In fact, there are even atheists and non-Christians who see value in the teachings of Jesus, trying to harmonize him with other religious teaching or with general moral teachings. In fact, many churches, Christian leaders and average Christians have chosen to understand Jesus in just this way, doing away with all the talk of him being the Son of God, doing away with talk about his death and resurrection and it’s cosmic and eternal significance.
Jesus, however isn’t satisfied with just being a teacher, he pushes the boundaries of the crowds’ and our comfort level, his words are more than just good advice, or food for the soul. His words are far, far more scandalous than that.
When Jesus told the crowds ‘I am the bread of life’ – they wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. They knew him as a great teacher, and so when he said that it would have sounded like he was comparing his words to bread, comparing them to a kind of spiritual food that nourished the soul and gave them comfort. Had Jesus stopped preaching right there, things may have gone better for him – he might not have been abandoned by the bulk of his disciples, perhaps he wouldn’t even have posed a threat to the Pharisees and High Priests and perhaps he never would have been crucified.
But Jesus didn’t stop there, he wasn’t merely speaking wise words to build people up spiritually, he wasn’t just providing good soul food – because he followed up his proclamation of ‘I am the bread of life’ by saying that it was his flesh – not his words – that were the bread of life, and to top it all off and make the image even more graphic that the crowd needed to wash it down with a cup full of his blood.
Right there Jesus loses the crowd. You can imagine everyone looking at Jesus in disbelief, some with jaws agape, others shaking their heads saying “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”. And a little later in our passage we are told “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
The crowd couldn’t wrap their heads around what Jesus was saying – that it was his very life that would give them eternal life, that it was his flesh and blood that would secure salvation and the eternal relationship with God in his everlasting kingdom.
From the other side of Easter and by the gift of the Holy Spirit we can understand somewhat Jesus’ words as speaking about his death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day; we can understand that his words are about the way his very flesh and blood opened the pathway of salvation for all people – but even with this knowledge, we can find his teaching hard, we can find it provocative, words that turn our world upside down.
Theologian Scott Hoezee writes “It seems Jesus is being deliberately provocative. Of course, as he makes clear after most of the crowd had fled, he really was being metaphorical. But if the metaphor was strong, it was only because the reality behind the metaphor was stronger still. But the only way you are going to accept such a startling teaching is if Jesus’ Father reveals it to you. But lots of people did not want to stick with a man who talked that way and so they left.”
Only those who have faith, who have received the gift of faith from God are even able to begin to comprehend Jesus’ teaching. Only those who have accepted the grace of God, can begin to understand who Jesus truly is.
The crowds did not believe, they did not exercise the gift of faith, and in a somewhat sad vignette Jesus wonders whether his words are even too hard for the twelve disciples to hear, he asks them “Do you also wish to go away?”
This question lingers for us today, “Do we also want to go away?” Do we also want to abandon Jesus because his teaching is just too hard to bear, too radical, to life-changing, to all-encompassing? Perhaps all we are looking for is wise words, spiritual food to nourish us – but if that is so then we better look elsewhere – because Jesus doesn’t soften who he is, and what he says because of our desires.
His desire for us, and for the whole world: is to experience the very life of God in the midst of this broken world; his desire for us is to be restored to right relationship with the Father and with one another; his desire for us is take in his body and blood so that our lives might be transformed, so that we might commune with God, and experience His eternal and abundant life.
The disciples in our Gospel story respond to Jesus “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.”
May we answer Jesus similarly, may we come to know Jesus as more than just a wise teacher, more than a moral compass – but as our Lord and Saviour, as the Son of God, the Holy one of Israel – the means of eternal life. It is when we understand Jesus as truly the Son of God, as the very life of God that he intends to share with us, that we can begin to experience God’s transformative power in our lives, that we can be truly fed by the bread from heaven.
As we gather together in worship, in study, in confession and around this table may we come to know Jesus more and more as the bread of life and the cup of salvation. May we come to understand that each and every week we are in the presence of his flesh and blood as we eat the bread and drink wine of our Eucharistic feast. And may we all with the disciples respond to Jesus “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”