John 6:51-58 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread 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?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, 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 them 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 them. 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 ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Not everyone accepted Jesus’ teaching and many struggled with his words. In John chapter 6 we see him turning up the heat on people’s real motivations. People are found out. But people are also offered life no nothing else.
As we wind our way through this pivotal part of the Apostle’s John’s unique witness to what he heard and saw of Jesus the picture is almost complete. The sharp point of departure for many around Jesus is here.
He has fed the large crowd. They saw what he can give. They want him to give them more. They want what he can give not him and his shape for their lives. Jesus has challenged their misplaced desire for more signs and wonders and the fixing of all their problems. He diagnoses their heart problem….they want what God can give but not God himself. They want to have more so they can live free and easy, doing life just the way they want. We called these people the “freedom fixers”.
The religious leaders have also seen what Jesus can do and they don’t want more of it or him. They don’t want more signs and wonders but they do want power, place and possession maintained.
Among themselves they have differing beliefs about life and how God shapes them and their nation. Some believe that everything is moving toward an afterlife where the good get in and bad don’t. Others believe that life is now and heaven meets earth in the Jerusalem temple. The Old Testament priesthood, the sacrifices, the temple itself…all must be maintained.
Both are experts in God’s Law. Keeping that Law is what counts. They cannot believe that God would be on the move in more than their rigid moralism, strict teaching and fervent study, their hard work, long prayers, sacrificial giving.
They cannot see that the God of the Torah could be at work ushering in a new era of peace through an uneducated man from the wrong town. Jesus just could not be like that manna from heaven in the desert upon which the Old Testament people relied for life. Just like those in the time of Moses before them, they “grumble” at Jesus’ words.
And now unbelievable words are spoken by the Saviour to those who want God to fix all their problems to be free and easy, and to those who want everyone to be squeaky clean in their own effort. Jesus drives at the heart.
Talk of ‘bread’ for life now turns to the eating and drinking of ‘flesh and blood’ for life.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Eating and drinking his blood! Bread is good. It is a staple diet for these people and a lot of us. But talk of eating and drinking human blood? This is highly offensive to Jewish ears – and ours too if you pause and listen to it without “church language” ears on.
In the Law of Moses, blood is a person’s life-force and definitely not something you willingly even touch. Blood is life and life is God’s and the spilling of blood (murder) is strictly forbidden. Dealing with human flesh and blood is a complex affair. To even think about willingly eating human flesh and blood is pure un-holiness, pure wickedness, pure defilement.
What on earth are the freedom fixers and the law keepers supposed to do with these words!?
Completely understandably, the Sadducees and Pharisees present are disgusted by this talk. The temperature goes up! Like the crowd at Adelaide oval reacting to a dodgy umpiring decision, the religious leaders fire up!
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Not only does Jesus offend all sensibilities but then links his own flesh and blood to that thorny topic of dispute among them – resurrection to an after-life.
He is saying that the whole way in which people believe they get God’s approval is wrong. Life in God’s approval is not at all about getting our problems fixed or being very, very good.
Meaning, purpose, our greatest hopes and our brightest future is all on him. He is calling people to bight into this loaf of life giving bread; hook into this flesh and blood – in other words, receive his word – all of it; no crumbs left, the plate shiny clean.
There are no half measures. We either take all of him or none of him. Life and hope and meaning is received on his terms, not ours. All our human needs for healing, life, forgiveness, peace between us, lasting relationships and love are going to be given via his means, not our earning or paying God off or ignoring God as we just live any way we want, even with very good intentions.
We hear those disturbing words and wonder where we are at in the response to Jesus’ question – Who do you say I am? Who is Jesus for me?
65 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
He is asking us this now. Have you or are you turning back to old ways and reliance to get where you want to get?
For us who know how this story ends – on the cross of flesh and blood, we hear now that our lives are only worthwhile and full of life and love via that cross where his flesh was torn until it bled and this King of all kings was “lifted up” on his suffering throne for the life of the suffering world he loves.
When we see him there and we hear these words surely we are shifted from Christianity as keeping rules, being seen to be good, buying God off and merely praying to get things when we are desperate or guilty enough.
Surely we are moved and our heart melted as the flesh and blood like ours is wounded like ours and resurrected like ours and we remember that we have been immersed in his blood in our Baptism and we are no longer pretending we are anything good or that we could be good enough to earn this King’s love. Surely we can only but simply receive him in all his grace.
All of a sudden we are different. Now prayer is no duty but sheer delight. Now serving is a privilege, giving of ourselves to his mission is a joy, acts of love in his name are fun!
Christian faith is now not being good but being new in his grace. Being a local church is not looking good or being powerful or well-connected but participating in his mission to give his life for the life of the world right where we live. Buildings and resources are all means of serving others in his name; participating in his kingdom coming; not idols to be horded or protected. Art and music is now reflecting his beauty so others may see him, not me.
So, friend, how best shall we live? Of what food are you partaking and is it any good? What trough is your nose in and is it delivering all you want it to or all it is reportedly meant to?
Shall we live by rigid rules and tell everyone else to be good lest and we are punished? Shall we trust our own goodness anymore? Shall we look for signs and wonders and anything spectacular that feels so very good as if our life in Jesus is centred there?
Or shall we hear in the heart: “human flesh and blood”, bloody cross, human suffering for all humans, lifted up for the life of all; bread, flesh, water, white robes dipped in the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – his costly cross for my gracious freedom and peace?
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.
Feed. Feed on his Word, receive his body and blood, stay with others around him especially when he is not so spectacular and he shows us it is not all about us being happy or safe or good – but simply loved and accepted and called in his name to live in his name all the day long in these bodies of flesh and blood like his. Feed on him and his Word and we shall live. Let’s live! Amen.