Throughout August, we have worked our way through the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. We have gotten to the end and “there we see that the ending to this chapter and all its teachings on bread and spiritual food is not the proverbial “happy ending.” This whole chapter has been about food, both literal and metaphorical, both physical and spiritual. It began with a great feast as Jesus fed a large crowd from almost nothing. It proceeded from there to talk a lot about food and drink. Eating is the most common of activities. To live, each of us eats every day. That was just as true 2,000 years ago when Jesus spoke to the crowds. But our familiarity with eating should cause us to have sympathy for the people who listened to Jesus that day and who were quite put off by what he said. It did, after all, sound odd. We’ve all seen those TV ads that declare, “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner.” Well, here Jesus says, “Me: I’m What’s For Dinner.”1 I wonder of Jesus had a voice like Sam Elliott.
Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, it’s this talking about fundamental stuff, this talking about what makes and sustains life, that marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. At this point in His earthly ministry (the last 3 years of His life, when He taught, performed miracles, and eventually was killed and resurrected), Jesus was quite popular. Huge crowds followed Him around, to the point where He could barely get meals in, to the point where His core group of disciples could rarely walk around unmolested. All things considered, things were going pretty well for Jesus, outside of a few core sadnesses like the beheading of His cousin John the Baptist. Everyone expected Jesus to lead a revolt and become king, He was the hot new thing; all He had to do was keep His head down and His mouth shut, and His greatness would be assured.
But Jesus, He wasn’t the type. He knew who He was and what His mission was, and so the will of the crowd had little effect on Him. Up to the moment we heard in today’s Gospel, all the food talk was fine; Jesus could get away with pooh-poohing manna and even calling Himself the Bread of Life. “Had Jesus stopped there, things may have gone better in John 6. But next thing you know, Jesus says that the bread in question is not his teaching but his own flesh. Getting a bit more graphic yet, Jesus says that what you needed to wash down his flesh was a cup brimming with some of his blood. This is where Jesus lost a lot of the crowd.”2
This is where Jesus had them saying “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” “Does this offend you,” Jesus asked His core group of twelve, as if He didn’t already know the answer, as if the Gospel itself isn’t a little offensive. “Do you also want to go away?” Jesus asked the group; the question was really “Does who I am offend you.” And that’s our question for today.
That’s our question, Does who Jesus is offend us? It’s not a silly or unneeded question, if you look around. I have colleagues who think that all religions lead to God, who have those COEXIST stickers on the back of their cars, who say Mass with Buddhist monks saying the Words of Institution. The ‘spiritual but not religious’ crowd likes to pick and choose what they like from what little they know of the world’s religions. On occasion, a pastor might not be able to preach from the heart at an “interfaith” gathering, lest anyone take offense.
The problem with all of that is not that it isn’t nice, for on the surface of it, it seems very nice. The problem with it is that it takes offense at Jesus, it says that we don’t really believe that His Flesh is meat indeed and His Blood is drink indeed, it means that perhaps we think we don’t really need Him, it means that we don’t believe Jesus when He tells us who He is. Because if He is who He says He is, than nice doesn’t cut it. If Jesus is who He says He is, then we, like those disciples, have to strip it all down to the fundamentals, to ask ourselves if who Jesus is offends us, then what next? But echoing the words of St. Peter, to whom else shall we go? For we have come to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God, God Himself given up for us. This is the truth about Jesus, about who He is; it’s the truth that drives some away and it’s the truth that has the power to bring eternal life.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.