I’ve reached the half-way point of John in my summer (now I guess autumn) reading of the gospels. One of the passages I read in the past few days was one that I also heard a talk about way back in July when I was at Momentum. It was a talk I found really helpful, so I thought I’d share what was said.
The talk was given by Tim Ross and focused on John 6:22-71 – a somewhat bemusing passage in which Jesus declares that he is the bread of life to a group of very confused people. What Tim managed to highlight really well, was the shocking nature of what Jesus says here. (I feel like, for this reason, you should read it ‘aloud in your head’ with the outrage of the Jews and the others around Jesus in mind, and read Jesus’ words as if he was deliberately intending to provoke – be dramatic)
51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a]and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Sometimes Christians are so used to the symbolism of communion and what Jesus teaches, that what a passage actually says is missed. In this case, that to the audience listening to Jesus at this point, Jesus’ teaching sounds an awful lot like an invitation to cannibalism. No wonder the disciples in verse 60 say ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ – what they are thinking is, ‘?!?!?’. And Jesus knows this, and yet gives zero explanation, and waits for them to make their move.
I feel like it’s a lot like when it looks like there’s a blatant error in a PowerPoint presentation you’re listening to, and everyone there looks around like ‘do you know what’s goin’ on with that, or?’ and people are waiting for someone else to ask the speaker about it, because it’s uncomfortable to raise it when it may not be a mistake since the speaker is an expert and you don’t know what their reaction will be.
The fact that Jesus is so unapologetic for what is said, repeats it multiple times, and then shamelessly confronts their grumbling by asking whether the teaching offends them, is obviously waaay more than enough for some of them to conclude madness and get straight outta there.
And Jesus just lets these disciples leave without comment! No chasing them and being like ‘hey man, don’t leave, I can explain’. And, as if all this isn’t enough, he then appears to give a very sharp reply to poor Peter.
Tim used this passage to illustrate three points:
- Disciples don’t always understand – the disciples here really do not understand what is going on, and when we follow Jesus we often find ourselves pondering unanswered questions, some of which we may never know the answers to.
- Disciples can choose to leave – at no point are we bound to follow Christ, at every point we have the freedom with which to walk away.
- Disciples can choose to stay – in the midst of confusion and doubt and any hopelessness we may sometimes feel, we can make a choice to keep faith. And the great thing about this, is that decisions like this aren’t emotional. So often faith must stem from a rational choice of who we know God to be, through past experience, through the historical evidence that the Bible’s account of the crucifixion is correct, and the testimonies of others. And really, that’s a great thing.
Finally, Tim spoke about how, at the end, the disciples who stay get a revelation that the others never receive. In this case, that moment at the Last Supper, where Jesus breaks bread and declares that this is his body, is also a moment of sudden understanding for the disciples – who I’m sure suddenly became visibly more relaxed!
May we all be disciples who choose to stay, who find that Jesus is truly the bread of life as he promises in this passage.