[Jesus said,] 56“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But 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. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
|Communion by XPinger (Chris Sutton) on flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0|
Last Sunday while I was away, I took my 89-year-old grandmother to our home church.
This was her first time going to church since she fell and broke her hip five months ago. That was the longest period she hadn’t been to church in her whole life. There are no words to describe her joy—and everyone else’s joy—that they were together to worship Jesus Christ. Even the angels of God were rejoicing.
But it also reminded me of Freda—a fellow church member Grandma drove to church for decades before she died.
Grandma didn’t stop taking her when she moved into a nursing home; when she developed dementia; and even when she could no longer follow the service.
Some may wonder, “how can someone worship in that state?”
I don’t know the answer, except that Freda loved being in church—and Grandma loved bringing her.
When it comes to Jesus, there’s more going on than meets the eye.
Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “the flesh is useless. It is the Spirit that gives life.”
In today’s Gospel, we find ourselves at a “black moment” in the Gospel of John. Not too long ago, a crowd numbering 5,000 was following Jesus wherever he went. They saw the signs he’d been performing for the sick; they ate their fill of the five loaves and two fish. But then, Jesus started feeding them bizarre teachings:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” he says. “Whoever eats and drinks me will live forever.”
Simply put, this is NOT what the people wanted. They wanted more bread loaves and fish. “Your teaching is hard,” they complain. “Who can accept it?” They decide that Jesus isn’t all that he cracked himself up to be. And they certainly weren’t going to eat his flesh and drink blood, which the Law of Moses strictly forbids. So many of them who had been disciples began to turn back and no longer went about with him.
This begs the question: why does a person walk away from Jesus? How can someone who counted themselves a disciple leave Jesus behind? Why is it that people call themselves Christian but have nothing to do with the Body of Christ? At what point do you stop going with Jesus?
I believe Jesus gives us the answer: “the flesh is useless. The Spirit gives life.” In other words, you are not in control. But you want to be. No wonder I is at the center of the word SIN.
Prosperity theology is flourishing right now. You don’t worship a Jesus who gives us flesh and blood away for the world. You worship a Jesus who tells you what they need to do get to heaven—as well as your own little piece of heaven on earth. Believe these things. Do these things. Have faith. Be a good person. Make the decision to accept Jesus. And he will reward you. This is a teaching that is NOT hard to accept.
A lot of people accept a friendship with Jesus. Jesus is your buddy; your pal. “He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me that I am his own.” But do you keep on a walkin’ when life hits the skids? Do you keep on a listenin’ when Jesus tells you something that’s hard and you can’t accept it?
Your flesh will tell you there’s nothing special about a morsel of bread; a few drops of wine; or water in a font…. The bible is just a book. You don’t need to come to some building every week and give up valuable time for housework or sports; if you give away your treasures you’ll have nothing left to enjoy for yourself. Prayer can’t possibly make a difference; forgiveness can’t possibly heal; new life cannot arise out of death. The flesh gives life. The Spirit is useless.
But, amid what appears to be the catastrophic disintegration of Jesus’ ministry, Simon Peter confesses, “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.” That’s the Spirit: when the flesh is useless, the Spirit gives life. The Spirit kept them with Jesus. The Spirit kept them in the truth.
Even though Peter will deny Jesus three times, Judas will betray him, and all rest will scatter and desert him, the Spirit will not depart. Jesus will hold fast to them. Useless flesh cannot keep the Spirit from giving life.
What human flesh counts as crazy talk is Jesus’ absolute determination to get inside of you—and this is what he does through your ears, as you hear his word—and through your mouth, as you eat and drink. This is how the Spirit gives life—and this is how the Spirit binds you to the one in whom you shall live.
Your relationship with Jesus consists not just of befriending or admiring Jesus, but of hearing, eating, and drinking. You abide by obeying Jesus’ word and taking part in Jesus’ work. You abide by washing each other’s feet. You abide by loving one another.
When you abide in Christ—you are not in control of what will happen or where Jesus takes you. You’ll never fully figure it out. There’s no guarantee of “what I’ll get out of him.” Jesus can’t promise that you’ll love where I take you and what happens to you.” What he can promise is that he’ll be living in you—and you in him.
Faith in Jesus Christ begins with the confession—the flesh is useless. The Spirit gives life. SO where will you abide and your soul find life? In TV shows, sports stadiums, or fancy vacations? In career success and material wealth? Or in eating and drinking, listening and doing? Jesus alone has eternal life. Abiding is truly living.