Today we come to the end of our series in John Chapter 6, and we hear John’s description of the fallout that results from Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ rhetoric has been getting more and more intense, as he’s challenged the religious history and beliefs of his hearers, claiming divinity for himself through repeated “I Am” statements, claiming superiority to Moses by calling himself the true bread from heaven that is superior to the manna that their ancestors ate in the wilderness, and then finally calling on his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood as real food and real drink if they hope to gain eternal life.
And the language is graphic – I almost want to place a PG-13 rating on what I’m about to say – because the word that John uses, that we translate as Jesus saying “eat”, would much better be translated as “to munch” or “to gnaw”. Much closer to what Jesus actually says here is something like: “Those who gnaw on my flesh, and drink my blood, abide in me and I in them.” It’s graphic language, so much so, that this was a common charge against the early Christians – they thought we were cannibals, with all this talk of gnawing on the flesh of our leader and drinking his blood!
We heard Jesus say last week: “Unless you gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” And, quite frankly, there’s just no avoiding what he’s saying, whether we like it or not. And, of course, there are many who, very decidedly, do not like it…
The nature of the Eucharist has been a source of contention throughout the nearly 500 years of the Reformation Era. Luther found himself fighting on both fronts – against the Roman Church’s teaching of transubstantiation, and against those who, like Ulrich Zwingly, the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, taught that the meal was only symbolic and not the real presence of the true Body and Blood of Jesus, in, with and under the bread and wine. But John, the Gospel writer, and the disciples and others hearing Jesus’ teaching in Caperaum following the miraculous feeding of 5000 with a few loaves and fish, seem to understand quite clearly what Jesus is saying, and they don’t like it, not one bit! Last week we heard the Jewish authorities say: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” And Jesus answered: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” And here, now, it’s the disciple’s turn to respond, and their response really isn’t any better, as they say: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” And many of them turn away and stop following Jesus altogether…
Now, it’s here that this Gospel text finds its strong connection to our first reading today. Jesus turns to the 12 and asks if they’re going to leave him, as well, and, as is so often the case in the Gospels, Simon Peter answers for the group: “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.”
Now, it’s important to remember that this passage comes from John’s Gospel, and to be reminded, here, of an important interpretive key found in John Chapter 1 where it says: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of any human, But of God.” We become God’s children, not by our own power, or will, or choosing, or deciding, but by the power and the will of God. And this understanding is only enhanced and reinforced by what John writes in verse 65 of our Gospel text today, and back in verse 44, which we read a couple weeks ago: “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father”, Or “unless they are drawn by the Father who sent me.”
The decision that Peter and the rest of the 12 make on this day in Capernaum is not a decision made on their own. No one can come to Christ Jesus, unless they are drawn by, and empowered to believe by, the Father who sent him. And that goes for the people of Israel standing in the land of promise near the end of Joshua’s life.
Joshua is about to die, and before he does, he recounts all that God has done and then challenges the people to make a choice: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” because there’s no such thing as a life that isn’t lived in service to something. You might serve some earthly power structure. You might serve your own fleshly interests. You might serve the forces of darkness that oppose God. But have no doubt, every human life is lived in service to someone or something. And a life lived as a servant of Christ is the choice that Peter and the 12 make, even in the face of this difficult, hard to accept, teaching. And they’re empowered to make this decision because God has drawn them to this place and time…
Now, it’s really a shame that we skip from verse 2a to verse 14 of our reading from Joshua today, because it’s in those missing verses that Joshua reminds the people of God’s saving work, delivering them, repeatedly, through many water crossings, into whole new lives as God’s people.
- First calling Abraham and Sarah from the other side of the Euphrates to the land of Canaan, making their descendants numerous through Isaac and Jacob.
- Then calling Moses and Aaron to lead those numerous descendants out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, into a whole new life as God’s covenant people based on the giving of the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
- Then calling Joshua to lead the people, after Moses’ death, across the Jordan River and into the land of promise, where they lived on land that they did not till, in cities that they did not build, eating the fruits of vineyards and olive groves that they did not plant.
Time and time again, God delivers God’s people into new life through water. And God continues to do so with us, even today…
In just a few moments Sumaya, the daughter of Joe and Kerry, will pass through the waters of Holy Baptism, and she will enter a whole new life as a baptized child of God in Christ, named and claimed by God as God’s own beloved daughter, named and claimed in love with a love that will never ever let her go – a love that will go with her throughout this life and carry her into eternal life as one who is drawn to Christ by the Father. And as one who, as she grows, will come to know for herself this Christ
- Who draws her in love
- Who saves her from sin
- Who feeds her with his own body and blood – The bread of life and cup of salvation
- Who alone speaks words of eternal life
- Who is the Holy One of God
- Who sends her out, together with all of God’s people, in mission and ministry for the sake of the Gospel and the good of all the needy world, living according to the pattern of his feeding and teaching us that we’ve seen unfold in these past several weeks.
May God, by the Spirit, grant Sumaya, and us all, the grace to believe and to know Christ Jesus as the Holy One of God, and the strength to model our lives after this pattern, for as Saint Teresa of Avila wrote some 500 years ago:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
no hands but yours;
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”