John 6:56-69 (Common English Bible)
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
61 Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you were to see the Human One going up where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.
67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”
Thoughts on the passage:
I know that all the studies agree that whole wheat bread is better for you than white bread. In fact, white bread really is not that good for you and has lost a lot of its nutritional value in the processing of the grain. You can tell me the science over and over again but it does not change one clear fact: white bread tastes better than whole wheat. Whole wheat bread tastes drier and lacks a lot of what I enjoy in bread. The science might be against me, but I know what I like.
Grains are not the only thing that lose their value in processing. In an effort to make things like fruits and vegetables appealing we often over cook them, slather them in butter, cover them with sugar and do anything else we can think of to improve the flavor and make them more palatable. At the same time we are destroying much of what makes them good for us. There is a reason the saying is not “an apple pie a day keeps the doctor away”.
Sometimes we can know what is good for us but we do not want to do the work that is required. Other times we end up turning away from things because they are just not as enjoyable as we would like. When it comes to being eating healthy we often must accept that the goal is not how pleasurable the food is, but rather what it does for us that really matters. We are not just seeking a momentary gasp of pleasure but a lasting and deeper pleasure that comes from health and well-being.
The lessons that Jesus offers in John 6 have gotten harder and harder as we move deeper into the text. The first lessons were about feeding people’s basic needs and learning to trust and share. Each section however winds this image of “the bread of life” deeper and deeper and now at the end of the teaching it has gotten serious. This idea of eating flesh and blood is challenging to many of the listeners and calls for a level of discipleship that is too much, so they opt out.
Those that remain are asked if they too want to depart. “Where would we go” Peter asks, “you have the words of eternal life.” The twelve disciples know that what Jesus is saying is not an easy message, but they also know that they need to hear the message and digest it if they want what it offers, eternal life. They understand that this is going to take work.
One of the greatest challenges to the Christian faith is that it starts out with an easy message but then it gets really hard, really fast. Over and over we are reminded of a simple fact, that God loves us no matter what and that no matter what we do, God is still there ready to love us and forgive us. Passages like our text for today are not meant to contradict that, but they are meant to remind us that grace really requires two parts. The first part is for God to reach out to us in love, not because of what we have or have not done, but in spite of that, God simple reaches out because we are God’s children and God loves us no matter what. The second part is our response. Do we accept this love and what comes with it, or do we turn away from it? Accepting that love is hard.
Accepting God’s love requires two things: accepting the need for that love and accepting the change in our lives as a result of it. Neither one is necessarily easy, but they are what are required to fully embrace the love and grace God offers us. They are the hard part of our faith: the part that takes work and the part that can scare people away. Ultimately they are what is needed if we want that eternal life that Christ offers.
The first part, accepting the need for love goes back to what Jesus is talking about when it comes to flesh and blood. The sacrifice of Christ’s death is based in an understanding of our sin. It is our failings that lead to Christ’s death. If we do not take ownership of our sins then how can we also realize the grace that follows? We have all said we are sorry when we did not mean it at some point and we all know how hollow those apologies feel. We need to believe we have done wrong before we can really apologize to God and before God’s forgiveness can have meaning. That is the first part of the challenge.
The second part is changing how we live our lives. An image of this that stays with me years later is a scene from Sesame Street from when I was a young child. Kermit the Frog goes to interview the father of George Washington about how George chopped down a cherry tree. While he is talking George continues to chop down trees. Each time he tells his father and because he did not lie his father forgives him, and then he does it again. While this is a humorous scene, it can show the importance of trying to live a changed life. This is not to say we will not make mistakes again, but that at least we will try and change our lives when we make a mistake and are forgiven for it. How can we be truly sorry if we are not seeking to change what we did wrong?
This is where faith gets tough. This is where the message of Jesus gets hard. Are we ready to admit our mistakes and are we ready to try and do better next time? We focus on moments in our faith journeys, our baptism, the time that God first felt real to us, but the reality is faith is a lifelong project and it is a hard one. It means trying hard this week to be perfect and then still falling short. It means coming to church again, seeking that forgiveness, and going back out again to do it all over next week. It is not easy, it is not simple, but it is the way that leads to eternal life.
Questions to Ponder:
What is something about the Christian faith that is hard for you?
When is a time you have apologized and not meant it? When was a time you really meant it?
Who is someone you know who keeps seeking follow Christ, no matter how hard it gets?
When is a time that God’s grace has sustained you even in the midst of hardship?
Prayer: Sustaining God, you offer us all a source of life and love beyond anything we can imagine. Too often however we turn away and try and feed ourselves with things that will not last. Forgive us when we turn away from you. Help us to remember the lasting impact of the Bread you offer to us. Help us experience your grace when we break bread and when we trust in you. AMEN