CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Disruption, Disappointment and Decision
Jesus said, “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.
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.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.”
- John 6:56-69
For the past several weeks, the gospel has included references to food and feeding. We began with the Apostle John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000. So many witnessed Jesus performing the miracle of turning a couple of fish and five loaves of bread into a feast with voluminous leftovers. The disciples were left shaking their heads, wondering how that happened.
The crowds that followed Jesus around Capernaum and from one side of the Sea of Galilee to another asked for medical cures and received them. They begged him to come to their homes and heal their loved ones, and Jesus obliged. Jesus showed them the epitome of compassion, and the people appeared grateful. Up to this point, the masses received the gift of grace, offering nothing in return.
This week’s gospel elevates the discussion of feeding. Jesus is not focused on earthly bread or the manna their ancestors received in the wilderness. Jesus needs the followers to understand who he is. The people are being told that the body and blood of Jesus is the key to eternal life. They cannot understand what he is talking about. They simply want him to continue traveling around the countryside, serving humanity.
Jesus has suddenly disrupted and upended their hope that he was to be their new king. Instead, the Rabbi wants to focus them on a life grander that they could ever imagine. He attempts to infuse them with an enthusiasm for the gift of salvation. He offers eternal life for those who believe. Jesus tells the people, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” What, Jesus? He had said some head-scratching things before, but this appears to be more than many in the crowd could handle. Jesus again wants to impress upon them that he will not live with them always, but he will be among them forever, if they have faith. The body and blood of Christ will be the most important food they will ever eat.
Folks just start to turn away until Jesus is left with the 12 disciples. Jesus asks them directly, “Do you also wish to go away?” This is a pivotal question in any relationship. We see so many examples in life where we check out when life gets hard. There is a tendency in humans to want to turn away when things get difficult. Jesus invites us to stay in the conversation in order to avoid missing the true gifts that are on the horizon.
This last year and a half have been amazingly difficult. The COVID pandemic has created a tsunami wave of emotions. We sheltered in place for months, fearing a dreadful disease. We were required to wear masks. Slowly, we seemed to be coming out of the worst of the storm. Businesses began to reopen. Happily, we were hanging out with friends, traveling and returning to normal life. More people were going back to church, and the coffee hour was making a comeback. Then along comes a variant, and it requires us to use great caution once more. The health care community is urging us to return to mask-wearing, and some folks are rebelling. Some are angry and don’t want to hear anymore, so they are turning away and demanding to live life on their terms. It is all too much. People of faith, Jesus encourages us in moments of great anxiety to pray and to look forward. Like the hymn says, “No turning back, no turning back.”
The people in Jesus’ community were also faced with some difficult choices. Living under the Roman Empire was incredibly difficult, and they thought Jesus would save them from such tyranny. They would not understand Jesus had been sent to save us all. Rather than continuing to engage with Jesus to comprehend the meaning of his crucifixion and ultimate resurrection, they turned back with a sense of disappointment and, most likely, a sense of grief. They desired something more immediate.
Simon Peter recognizes that the smartest thing they can do is to pin all their hopes on Jesus. It requires a conscious decision to follow Jesus, and then faith will help you to focus on a future that is brighter than the present. Like the fall of the Roman Empire, it is our faithful understanding that, by working together, we will conquer this virus, and life will be better than normal. We must be committed to the promise that is contained in the body and blood of Christ and share that good news with others. Like Peter said, “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Amen.
The Rev. Kathy Walker is the missioner for Black ministries in the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus