Bread of Life: Offensive Talk

August 26, 2018/John 6:56-69


It is decision time.

There have been signs and wonders, certainly.  Jesus added to the wine supplies at a wedding in Cana.  He offered life-giving water to a Samaritan woman.  He healed the son of a man employed by the emperor as well as a raggedy hobo outside Jerusalem’s city gates.  And of course, he fed all those people up on the mountain.

But he also threw money changers and people selling animals for sacrifice out of the temple, calling it his Father’s house.  He talked about being born again, claimed he had come from heaven, and offered his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.

Now, as his disciples complain, he raises his eyebrows and with a bit of a smirk in his voice, asks them, “Does this offend you?”

Apparently many of his followers answered, “Yes.  Yes, Jesus!  We are offended!  This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”  And many of them turned back.  They drifted away.  They went back home, where in later years they would reminisce with their grandchildren.  “Yes.  I knew the teacher.  I followed him for a while.  But it was hard.  He was hard.  So I came home.”

To press the point, after the deserters had wandered off, Jesus turned to the twelve.  The twelve men whom he had invited to follow him, to whom he had issued a personal invitation.  But now the smirk is gone and instead it is sorrow that fills his voice as he asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?”

It is decision time.

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday comes from Joshua.  You remember Joshua – the one appointed to take Moses’ place when he died; the one who led the people into the promised land.  They’re moving in now, and Joshua calls them all together to say, it is decision time.

“Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua tells the Israelites, “whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Choose.  It is decision time.

“Do you also want to go away?” Jesus asks the twelve.

Do you want to turn back, to leave behind the life-giving bread, the saving blood that I am offering?  Do you also want to go away?

“Neither Joshua nor Jesus take pains in these readings to make choosing God easy.  If anything, they make it harder.  Joshua explains in no uncertain terms the fidelity, obedience, and tenacity a covenant relationship with God requires.  ‘If you’d rather worship the idols of your ancestors, go for it,’ he tells his listeners.  ‘Because the life Yahweh calls you to is no joke.  He means business.’”[1]

Jesus makes no excuses for his hard words, either.  He does not try to soften his message or assure his followers that life will be easy after all, that following him, choosing God, will mean a life of peace and happiness, free of trouble and anxiety and all the things that make life so hard, so trying.  He doubles down.  “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”  There is nothing you can do that will make this life better, he points out.  But I offer water to soothe, bread to assuage your hunger, blood to cleanse your spirit.  I offer life.

It is decision time.

Do you also want to walk away?

And let’s be honest here.  Yes.  Sometimes we do want to walk away.  We want to walk away from a grace that offers cooling water to our enemy.  “Sometimes I do [want to walk away] because grace is hard to stomach when it is extended to those I want to get what I think is coming to them.  Not only that, but eating this bread from heaven requires that I am what I eat, that I abide in Jesus, that I put on the whole armor of God and take on the cosmic powers of this present darkness, that I offer heavenly bread indiscriminately and eat with anyone and everyone.”[2]

Even if we don’t turn away, we do find ourselves “trying to water down Jesus’ demands.  [But Jesus issues] an uncompromising call to faithful discipleship.”[3]

“Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter answers for the twelve.  “Lord, to whom can we go?”  What else are we going to do?  “You have the words of eternal life.”  “In that moment, Simon Peter realizes that despite the startling images, despite the hard path, he is ready to give up some control in order to go home, in order to accept the gift of life.”[4]

And that’s the problem, isn’t it?  We don’t want to give up control – or what control we believe we have – to follow this Jesus who promises life but asks so much of us.

It is decision time.

“In the moment that we choose to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink Jesus’ blood – and we truly abide in him and he in us – we choose life.  We give up the notion that we are in control.  Fear truly no longer has the upper hand.  We understand that we are no better than any other child of God because of our denomination, our skin color, our gender, our job.  We turn over to God that which we fear most, trusting that we are loved.”[5]

The decision of the twelve “not to turn away but to walk forward with Jesus draws them together as a community of faith.  Their professed willingness to follow Jesus Christ renders them a community of faith.  It is our commitment to follow Christ alongside others that makes us the people of God.”[6]

It is decision time.

[1] Debie Thomas, “Choose this Day,” Journey with Jesus, 19 August 2018

[2] Jill Duffield, “Do you wish to turn away?”, Looking into the Lectionary, Presbyterian Outlook, Aug 20, 2018

[3] Lamar Williamson, Jr., Preaching the Gospel of John, 90

[4] Amy C. Howe, Feasting on the Word B/3, 384

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, Feasting on the Word B/3, 385

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