Follow the Church of Ireland Lectionary as I do (in terms of an attempt at maintaining a weekly blog) and one soon realises that the Gospel of John Chapter 6 with its focus on the feeding of the 5,000 (note men, not women and children were included in this figure) and Christ revealing Himself as the “Bread of Life” spans a full five weeks of reading, sermon making, liturgical observance, etc, etc.
I, for one have had “my fill” you might say, of “bread”.
However, this week’s Gospel reading with a focus on John 6 v 56 to 69, has for me at least, caused much to reflect upon. I am uncomfortable with what Christ teaches. I can see myself (in more ways than one) in being a disciple…
who heard Christ,
struggled and wrestled to understand Christ.
And can see why, some, do not nor cannot follow Christ.
Jesus, the “Bread of Life”. Yes! But maybe unpalatable? Please read on…
The Gospel reading.
53-58 But Jesus didn’t give an inch. “Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you. In the same way that the fully alive Father sent me here and I live because of him, so the one who makes a meal of me lives because of me. This is the Bread from heaven. Your ancestors ate bread and later died. Whoever eats this Bread will live always.”
59 He said these things while teaching in the meeting place in Capernaum.
Too Tough to Swallow
60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”
61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this rattle you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”
66-67 After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”
68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”
I love Petersen’s paraphrase of the Gospels. He uses a turn of phrase that opens up in new ways and profound ways the thrust of Christ’s teaching…no less than in the above Gospel passage.
Those that follow Christ, those seeking “the bread of life”, those seeking healing, wholeness; those seeking political liberation, those seeking salvation, those caught up in the scrum of the “personality” of Christ…
… are beginning to find His teachings and His truth “too tough to swallow”.
Witness their exasperated cry…”This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow” (John 6 v 60), in response to Christ’s teaching as how we are to receive Him…
“My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”. (John 6 v 55).
And let’s not start THAT debate.
So, as a follower of Christ; I hate to admit it, but there is so much I find “tough to swallow” in my “following”.
Almost as if the “bread” Christ offers me is “unpalatable”… certainly at times difficult to live by and digest…
Here are some examples…
From the Gospel of Mark Ch 12 v 30 to 31:
Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
From the Gospel of Matthew Ch 6 v 34:
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
Again from the Gospel of Matthew (Ch 5 v 38 to 40):
“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously”.
In so many ways, Christ and His teachings are hard to swallow, unpalatable. The three examples cited above (amongst many that our Lord taught) I understand, are to be lived by and built into my/our lives.
Action. Yes. But at a cost. The “Bread of Life” that is almost unpalatable.
The “Bread of Life” that is almost unpalatable…
Outside of the love, support, hard work, difference and community of fellow believers, seeking to serve, understand, digest… “the bread of life”.
Outside of the global Church’s wrestling and engagement with “mission” as articulated by (for me succinctly) in the Anglican Communion’s “Five Mark’s of Mission” https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/marks-of-mission.aspx
Outside of the work and witness of God’s Holy Spirit who makes Christ’s words and teaching “life making” (John 6 v 63).
Outside of a discipleship seeking to thoroughly “digest” Christ and the “Bread of life” he offers.
Picture courtesy of Wendy Brown.