RCL Scripture: John 6:56-69
Let us pray: Illumine for us your word, O Lord, that the Light you bring, the words I speak, and the Spirit you send inform us of your truth for our lives. Amen.
The Gospel lesson today again overlaps some of what we heard in the last two weeks: Jesus is the bread from heaven, the bread of life. Eat him and you will live. Do we really understand this teaching, though? If it took John’s gospel three times to iterate this astonishing and scandalous-sounding teaching, does that mean we should look at it yet again? Probably. Why? We get it already! Or…do we?
Today’s pericope is nothing short of a teaching of unequivocal depth which seals for all time the absolute necessity that we really understand it, that we ingest, consume, wholly swallow, absorb, and completely surrender to the fact that Jesus is our life. Listen to today’s teaching again: “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life” (6:63). What do you make of that? As if that isn’t enough, later in John’s Gospel we come across that other famous and, at least for me, equally troubling and related passage, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
Let me remind you that John’s gospel was written down around 50 years after his bodily resurrection from the dead and after Jesus ascended into heaven. John’s community knew without a shadow of a doubt that at the time of the collection of their writings, teachings, and remembrances, Jesus was, and is, somehow both Spirit and flesh. So from an “in-group” perspective, this teaching isn’t so difficult after-all. They spoke and wrote about what they already knew to be true. What gave them their life together was Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Living God, the Breath of Jesus breathed out upon them, with them, between them, and within them and their shared life together.
I don’t know about you, but personally, that still leaves me with a perpetual question, one that still haunts me three years after the first time I tried to preach on this text publically when it came around in the revised common lectionary cycle. My perpetual question is, “How are we really supposed to feed on the bread of heaven that is Jesus?”
If we – meaning all human beings – really are made in God’s image, then in a real sense both Jesus and ourselves share in common these earthly frames, these corporeal bodies, these sensuous beings, and some measure of God’s Spirit imbedded in our souls. Yet in addition to that we are given free will as human creatures to do with our lives (bodily, intellectually, and spiritually) as we will, for good or for destruction of what is good. Reflecting on how Jesus lived his life and what he taught about living life gives us an incredible model to follow. Even if each of us are only mirror reflections of God’s image, then the power also lies in us to do and be all that Jesus did, does, and is. Can we heal? Yes. Can we withstand temptation? The power to do so is within us. Can we live and move and have our being caught up in the great cosmic dance wherein we pour out ourselves, our minds and bodies, our hearts and strength in sacrifice for the good of others? Yes, it is possible. We are given the same choice Jesus had to allow our spirits and our flesh to work together toward fulfilling God’s purposes. This is the light of life, the gift of faith, even when it is extremely hard. It is abundantly clear that,
“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 … [should] 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.”
Yet this is not all we can glean from this passage. Did you notice the interaction Jesus had with his disciples? Not the crowds who dispersed, but those who remained (that is, “abide”) with him? This is the first time in John’s Gospel we encounter the term, “the twelve,” meaning these followers of Jesus are a distinct communal group among themselves. Not unlike our own community here, they are a small, intimate group deeply connected to Jesus; they stand together in solidarity as Peter speaks up and says, “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.” (6:68-69)
“Their decision not to turn away but to walk forward with Christ draws them together as a community of faith. It is not any particular creed, mission statement, style of worship, or service program that unites them as the body of Christ. It is their professed willingness to follow Jesus Christ that renders them a community of faith. What a blessed word to remember as we agonize over mission statements, budget priorities, worship attendance, or other preoccupations of churchly life. It is our commitment to follow Christ alongside others that makes us the people of God.”
In that, perhaps we have a glimmer of the beginning of understanding. When we choose to live and die in Christ together, on behalf of 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 this 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.
Questions for Reflection
“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name . . . and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you” (1 Kgs. 8:41–43). Are there people of other nationalities, ethnic groups, or faith traditions in your workplace, neighborhood, community, or congregation? What are some ways in which you and your congregation can express the welcome of God to those who are different from you?
Household Prayer: Morning
Lord God, my sun and shield, a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. Let the favor of your presence strengthen me and accompany me everywhere I go today. Prepare me to be a sanctuary, that your light and love may radiate through me. Through Christ my Lord. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Lord God my strength, your Spirit never tires; your love never fails. I bring you my struggles, stresses, questions, and worries of this day. Where else can I go? You have the words of eternal life. Let your promises sustain my soul and comfort my heart as I rest in you, through Christ my Lord. Amen.
Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, “Homiletical Perspective, John 6:56-69” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0