Reflection on John 6:60-65

Scripture: John 6:60-65

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Reflection:

Today is the first of two concluding posts to what has turned out to be a very lengthy sixth chapter of John. We turn our attention away from the crowd that has been following Jesus and onto his group of disciples. And like the crowd, the disciples find the teaching on the bread of life hard to grasp. However, we should notice that Jesus appears to take on a very different tone when questioned by his disciples than he did with the large crowd.

After hearing Jesus describe himself as the bread of life and instruct the people to feast on his flesh and drink his blood, the disciples rebuke the lesson saying, “This teaching is difficult: who can accept it?” To me, it’s almost like they’re saying Jesus expects too much – that he should tone things down a little so that more people would join this Jesus movement. We might even say that theses disciples were more concerned with growing numbers than hearing and proclaiming the authentic, profound truth of the gospel. Jesus is not happy with this idea. He shows them his sarcastic side as he asks, “Does this offend you? You haven’t heard or seen anything close to the depths of what I’ve come to show you.” I don’t believe Jesus is being playful. I think he’s extremely mad at the position his disciples take.

Jesus doesn’t like the idea of exchanging the message for the masses. Numbers can be important, but they should never be our ultimate guide for determining our success in the life of the church, especially when growth happens at the detriment of our profound message of peace and redemption. Let’s stay on the good side of Jesus as we seek to grow his kingdom. Let’s not water down the gospel, but show the world how life-giving the message of Christ can be… even when it’s difficult.

Prayer:

God of truth, grant me wisdom to understand your truth – even when it’s difficult – so that I can better proclaim it to others. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

Nobody ever said Christianity was easy (well maybe somebody has, but they shouldn’t have).

Reflection on John 6:52-59

Scripture: John 6:52-59

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Reflection:

If we could all step outside our centuries old worship practices for a minute and read these verses without the benefit of experiencing Holy Communion, I feel safe in saying that we’d think Jesus was talking craziness. You want me to eat your flesh and drink your blood? That’s weird. And it’s gross. And how is that helpful, anyway? I’ve always thought Jesus liked to be provocative. I think he enjoyed getting those visceral reactions from the crowds that followed him. If nothing else, framing eternal life within the language of cannibalism will get the peoples’ attention.

But what we should keep in mind is that John was likely expecting his intended audience to understand that this was a reference to the Eucharist (what we call Holy Communion). He wrote this gospel many years after these events took place. In fact, the Gospel of John is by far the latest written of all the four. The church was established and had already developed many of its worship practices. So, John is constructing this scene in a way that communicates and reaffirms the significance of receiving Communion. He wants us to know how crucial this act of worship is in the life of the church. In these verses, our very lives seem to depend on receiving the body and the blood.

That’s because for the early church, receiving Holy Communion was largely understood to be the church’s central act of worship. They believed it was the most important thing they could possibly do. I think they were right. I think it’s still the most important means of worship we have. And I believe that any worship service that goes by without offering this sacrament has been left incomplete. That’s not to say a service won’t be fruitful and good, but I am saying it won’t be as good as it could’ve been. I believe that churches everywhere need to reclaim sacramental worship as their primary and central means of communicating the Good News. Because Communion is more than a symbol. It is more than a remembering. Holy Communion is a holy mystery – a sign – through which the Christ makes himself physically present with us and in us. Communion is where we see and experience grHoly Communionace and love in the flesh.

Prayer:

Incarnate God, teach us, again, to worship you through these means of grace called sacraments. Remind us that the bread and wine are for us your body and blood. Allow us to receive them that we might receive your grace in the most physical, tangible way imaginable. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

Holy Communion gives us the eyes to see with an eternal perspective.

Reflection on John 6:44-51

Scripture: John 6:44-51

“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Reflection:

Jesus continues the discourse concerning the bread of life with the crowd that has gathered around him in our passage today. He has already revealed to them that he is this bread of life that has come down from heaven earlier in the conversation. However, in this next to last section of the greater story, Jesus gives them this very strange instruction: Eat me. He says that if you wan’t eternal life, then you’ve got to eat my flesh.

I’ll get more into the Eucharistic theology of these passages and how it informs our understanding of Holy Communion more next time because the last verses are full of great imagery. But for now, I thought it’d be fun to tell you a little story. As you may know, early Christians suffered persecution in Rome. This was brought on by practices that we developed very early. One of the primary examples is that Christians refused to pay homage to the Roman gods and to the emperor. Romans actually accused them of being atheists because of their failure to recognize their pantheon of gods. My favorite accusation launched against the early church, though, has to be that early Christians were cannibals. Every time the church would gather, they would take Holy Communion. It was their central act of worship. But because of language instituted by Jesus like that in this passage, all the outsiders heard was that these crazy Christians were eating flesh and drinking blood. There’s no wonder why they believed Christians were cannibals. The whole notion of Communion just sounds weird.

But I think all this strangeness illuminates a very important lesson. We who make up the church are meant to be different. The outside world is supposed to stare at us with curiosity and perplexity because of how strange our lives look in comparison to the world. We are a peculiar people. At least we’re supposed to be. As Christians we don’t have to feel compelled to fall in line with the powers that surround us. We say “no” to injustice. We say “yes” to those people nobody else seems to want or care about. We welcome the stranger. We turn the other cheek. We are just a little weird like that. So be it.

Prayer:

Lord of all, you have set apart your church to be a strange community in a sometimes non-approving world. Help us embrace the calling to be different. Help me embrace my calling to be strange. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

God has set us aside to be different.

Something to Read:

If you want to read more about this topic, I couldn’t recommend more highly a book called Resident Aliens. It was co-authored by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. The book was first published in 1989, but it still resonates so deeply with our church and culture, today. It’s pretty short and very approachable. If you’ve got time and want to be challenged to think deeply, pick up a copy and let me know what you think.

Reflection on John 6:41-43

Scripture: John 6:41-43

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.”

Reflection:

Today, I thought we’d just focus on these brief three verses that come in the middle of Jesus’ discussion about how he is the bread of life. I think it’s crucial for us to draw out verses like these, especially in the Gospel of John. That’s because in John, Jesus is always portrayed in the very highest way. He is the bread of life, living water, and the Word who was in the beginning. In John, it’s always the divinity of Jesus that gets highlighted. The section we’ve been in for a few posts is a perfect example of this. Now, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the divinity of the Son. But we can’t let the divinity overshadow his humanity. Both are important. And I think this brief exchange between these Jews and Jesus gives us a glimpse of that humanity and Jesus’ acceptance of it.

In an effort to undermine Jesus’ teaching about himself being the bread of life that comes from heaven, the group that had surrounded him begins bringing up his earthly origins. They say, “We know your mother and your father. We’ve known you sense you were a child. You’re from Nazareth, not heaven.” My favorite part of this interaction is Jesus’ lack of interest in what they’re saying. He says, “Don’t complain among yourselves.” I read this as him essentially saying “So what?” So, you know my parents. You know that I was born in this area and that I am a human being. So what? Jesus doesn’t care. He doesn’t hide from where he came from. He’s okay acknowledging his humanity. Where the group thought it would disprove his message, Jesus just keeps on being Jesus. His humanity is just as much a part of who he is as his divinity. His human history is a positive attribute, not a negative one like the crowd believed.

I think our society can be a lot like this Jewish group questioning Jesus. We’re told to live in the moment, or to look towards the future. The past is the past. There’s no point in worrying about what’s already behind us. Honestly, I believe that’s terrible advice. We are the products of our past. History matters because our history tells us who we are in our present moment. There have been good things and not so good things that have happened to us and our communities that have brought us to where we are today. Progress doesn’t happen when you forget that. It happens when you acknowledge the past and the truth it tells us. We must celebrate the joys and be reconciled with the bad. Then, and only then, will we have an honest understanding of who we are and a foundation for growth and change. In certain times during the church year, you might be asked to “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” Memory and remembering are crucial components in or faith and practice. Let’s all remember who we are. Let’s remember who called us and saved us. Let that history shape how you live and act with each new day.

Prayer:

Lord Almighty, thank you for bringing me to where I am now. Help me to remember honestly so that I can live more faithfully. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

We are all the products of our past.

Reflection on John 6:35-40

Scripture: John 6:35-40

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Reflection:

Today, we’re back in the middle of the discussion Jesus is having with this crowd of people who have followed him across the sea. And the passage might be a familiar one to you, at least that opening verse. The conversation, thus far, has centered on the imagery of bread. For the crowd, it’s been the physical, life-giving sustenance that they’ve been most interested in. Jesus, on the other hand, has been using their hunger in order to lead them into a deeper understanding of who he is. Jesus wants them to know him as the bread of life; that he is the one who gives and nourishes and sustains all things.

Jesus makes that shift from physical to spiritual in the most beautiful way. He does it through an invitation that is broad and sweeping. Jesus says, “Anyone who comes to me I will not drive away.” Right here, Jesus declares that all are welcome to feast on what he has to offer. None shall be turned away. Age, race, gender, country of origin, socio-economic status, and every other classification you can name will not be a reason for withdrawing the invitation. Every person and every type of person is asked to come and feast on this bread of life we know as the Christ. And none will ever be asked to leave. As a Methodist pastor, this radical invitation spoken by Jesus is why I welcome anyone and everyone at the Communion table. If Christ will have them come and eat, then who am I to say otherwise?

If there is ever a verse that the Church needs to unify behind right now, I think it’s this one. We should all wake up saying, “Anyone who comes to me I will not drive away. Anyone who comes through the doors of my church I will not drive away. Anyone who Christ has invited to the feast I will not drive away.” That’s the kind of Christ-like hospitality our churches should get behind. It’s the kind of hospitality that says to people, “Don’t worry about what you look like, where you’ve come from, or how you got here. Just come and eat.”

Prayer:

Bread of life, you have fed me and sustained me. I accepted your invitation and have experienced your feast. Help me to see that there’s still plenty of room left around the table, and that you don’t have a dress code required to be seated.

Thought for the Day:

The table is prepared. Won’t you come?

Reflection on John 6:25-34

Scripture: John 6:25-34

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Reflection:

We return, today, for entry number two of Jesus’ interaction with this strangely persistent crowd. I call them persistent for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with our introduction to this story from my last post. The crowd has grabbed boats and crossed a sea in order to find Jesus. And at the beginning of this passage, we see that they’ve finally tracked him down. Second, though, is their persistence in trying to figure out a way to get Jesus to feed them again. They like the idea of having a leader who can multiply a small lunch into enough food for 5,000 people. Jesus shows pretty quickly that he’s aware of their motives when he tells them, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus then goes on to talk about the eternally nonperishable food (himself) which they should be seeking. But like in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, they don’t understand what Jesus is getting at.

Or maybe, the crowd is just so hungry that they can’t stop thinking about anything other than those loaves and fish. There were twelve baskets full of leftovers you might recall. So, they persist in their attempts to sway Jesus into some breakfast. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In other words, “What do we have to do in order to get a little something to eat?” Apparently they don’t like Jesus’ answer to just believe. And so the crowd gets crafty. They reach back into the pages of history, and they ask for another sign. Moses was a great prophet, they say, and he gave the people food. Prove to us you can do that, too. I read this as them saying, “Oh if you’ll just give me what I’m wanting from you – that is breakfast – then I’ll believe anything you want.”

Such a circumstantial and fleeting faith exists in abundance in this world. Likely, it even pops up from time to time in our own lives. It’s an easy pattern to fall into – that is this idea that God will earn our love and faith after God comes through for us in some way. When I was younger, it was the whole “God, help me get this A and I’ll be eternally yours.” The good news that Jesus tells us at the end of our passage, though, is that he’s more than a wish granter. God is too persistent in redeeming us to be bribed for a shallow taste of our affection. Our God is bigger than that. God can look past and forgive those times when our faith is fleeting because our God is working on something much bigger for us. He’s working to reconcile the whole world to himself. When I remember this, I’m thankful for the kind “no” I get from God when I get a little petty.

Prayer:

When my faith is myopic and unimaginative, remind me of the scope of your work. Teach me to expect more from you; for, God, you expect more from me. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

Offering the Bread of Life is God’s job. Offering the bread for empty bellies is the Christian’s job.

Reflection on John 6:22-24

Scripture: John 6:22-24

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

Reflection:

Today, we are embarking on what will be another multi-post reflection on a lengthy interaction between Jesus and a crowd of people. And this isn’t just any crowd, but some, or all, of the 5,000 who Jesus fed with the five loaves and two fish. That image of food and hunger will be a prominent theme as we work our way through the coming conversation. Jesus will explain to them how he is the Bread from Heaven. I actually see a lot of similarities between this story and that of the Samaritan woman at the well in that Jesus uses a very physical, life-sustaining object (i.e. water and bread) to illustrate who he is and the work that he does. Jesus will, again, transform a bodily necessity like food into a spiritual sign of his divinity.

And already in these introductory verses, the theme of hunger stands out prominently. Just imagine this massive crowd of people. They’ve just experienced this Jesus miraculously provide enough food for 5,000 people. They’ve caught a glimpse of a life where food is never scarce and all have enough. They’ve gone to bed full. But, now, they’ve awoken hungry. So, they begin to look around. The crowd searches for Jesus and his disciples because they are, again, in need of something to fill there stomachs. The people are hungry. They are hungry for bread, but even more so, they are hungry for another miracle. They long to have Jesus satisfy their every want and need again. The crowd wants to benefit from another sign. Patiently waiting for Jesus to return isn’t an option. They want him right now. So, they hop in some boats, and start looking for him.

This scene makes me wonder how often we are like this crowd. We experience Jesus in some powerful way. He graciously provides for us without us asking or even expecting it. But somehow in that gift, we miss the point. Instead of being gracious and thankful, we get a little greedy. And all of a sudden, we start seeing God as a wish granter instead of our creator, sustainer, and savior. Now, I will say that I do kind of admire the gusto of the crowd. They want more of Jesus, and they’re willing to search high and low for him. Yet, they’ve forgotten that Jesus doesn’t hide from us. He seeks us out and finds us. The enthusiasm of the crowd is great, but the energy is misdirected. Instead of taking that lesson of enough that the miracle taught us and implementing it in their daily lives, they do the very opposite. They demand more. The temptation to demand more is always there. We, too, are a hungry people. The hard part is learning how to be satisfied. The harder part is learning how to share.

Prayer:

Lord of all, help me to be satisfied in you and with you. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

Christ wants to give you more of himself, but he wants you to share when he does.