- First Reading 1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43
- Psalm Psalm 84:1-12
- Second Reading Ephesians 6:10-20
- Gospel John 6:56-69
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Next week, we return to the Gospel of Mark until Christ the King Sunday, so this is our last bread of life passage to chew on from the Gospel of John. In today’s passage, after just telling us in vv. 56-58 those “who eat my flesh and drink my blood” will live forever, Jesus turns around and tells us the flesh is useless and his words are spirit and life. Moreover, he tells them again no one can come to him unless granted by God. A hard teaching, indeed. I can only imagine it must have been difficult listening and learning from Jesus, if one suffered from being “metaphorically challenged.”
In all seriousness, contemporary readers of this passage are “conditioned,” as Commentator Susan Hylen reminds us, to view this text through the lens of the Last Supper. Let me remind you, however, that at the last supper in John, Jesus speaks no liturgical reinterpretation of the bread being his body, broken for the world or the cup of the new covenant, his blood poured out for many. Replacing these elements in the gospel of John, Jesus gets up from the supper, wraps a towel around himself and goes around washing his disciples feet like a common servant.
Biblical scholarship debates whether the gospel of John was written with the earlier synoptic gospels in hand as references, or if it developed in isolation, even if several decades later. With today’s teaching, John tells us, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter, since most “metaphorically challenged” and “metaphorically-abled” people today can’t help but view it with the lens of Eucharist in place.
Jesus spells out for us in verse 63 what he wants us to remember of these words, though. He says: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” What remains for us, then, is to take a deeper look at what Jesus means when he says his words are “spirit and life.” One of Hylen’s narrative insights for this passage is to focus on the Greek meno, meaning “abide” or sometimes “remain.” Verse 56 reads, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”
Personally, I have to admit, “abiding” with Jesus is difficult.
Staying with Jesus and learning from him is a long process. For many, [then as well as today] a quick fix would be more attractive. The crowd was initially attracted to Jesus when they saw him as a Moses figure – one who could work miracles… As they continue with him, they learn that Jesus is not offering an easy victory but the long road of discipleship.
Pairing this passage with the story of manna in the wilderness from Exodus brings up a related concept, trusting God. “Abiding” and trusting go hand in hand. On the one hand in Exodus, the Israelites come to rely on the manna, yes, but they grumble and complain the whole time they are supposedly “abiding” with God in the wilderness. In effect, they don’t “abide;” they wander, wondering whether to trust that God will continue to provide manna each day.
On the other hand, in today’s passage, the issue is trust in Jesus. If Jesus is the manna that came down from heaven, then abiding with him means we must trust that he will continue to provide what we need for our spiritual life. The crowds, like the Israelites of old, aren’t able to trust, and many fall away, I suppose looking for that quick fix instead of the long road of discipleship.
Which one are you in the narrative? Are you looking for a quick fix or a long road? “Jesus, if I just pray to you, you’ll grant me what I need, right? How about some rain for the land, a safe biological control for Knap Weed and Scotch Broom, maybe some real serious world peace between our Abrahamic cousins and ourselves, the proverbial East and West. Oh, and how about reducing the national debt for once. By the way, can you patch up my marriage and get the kids off to bed on time? Actually, Lord all I really want in life is to be healthy and happy. Is that too much to ask?”
I suppose that off-the-cuff prayer begins to look a lot like a laundry list, however noble its initial intent. So what are we really supposed to do with this passage? How are we really supposed to feed on the bread of heaven that is Jesus?
Maybe it would help us to look at spirit and flesh not as dichotomous, but with a more holistic perspective. If we put on holistic lenses, then there is no separating out Jesus’ flesh and his spirit, which could be seen as our own human reflection wherein we are made in God’s image.
This more holistic perspective sees that in Jesus Christ, and therefore in our own lives, we are given the choice to allow our spirits and our flesh to work together toward fulfilling God’s will. Seeing as how we are made in God’s image just as Jesus was, and this is what Jesus did with his life, he is the model we are to follow.
Again, a hard teaching…with the help of commentator Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, let me play that out a bit farther.
The more we realize that faith calls us to consume the body and blood of Christ, to embrace his death and resurrection and to emulate his manner of living and dying for others, the more difficult the journey of faith becomes. This passage is not intended to … discourage us from witnessing the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. But it will help us remember that our calling is a strange and difficult one. It is more than skin deep: reaching beneath the surface of our lives and into our workplaces, bank accounts, family relationships, eating habits, daily schedules, and all the other ways we choose to live and die for Christ and our neighbors.
Perhaps there we have the crux of it. When we choose to live and die for Christ and for our neighbors, then we truly are the body of Christ in the world. Let us pray:
Almighty God, guide us as we journey farther along the road with you. You have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ what is good and what is required of us. Help us to live and walk faithfully, one step at a time each day with you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen? May it be so.
 Hylen, Susan E., Associate Professor of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Published: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2603
 Ottoni-Wilhelm, Dawn. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).