Text: John 6:51-69
Gospel for Proper 15, Series B
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Have you noticed that our society is obsessed with scandals? The news, social media, and tabloids love to serve up stories about leaders, major athletes, or heroes who have fallen. But imagine for a moment, if you were to travel back in time to the first century city of Capernaum, right after the events of our Gospel text, what would you find in the tabloids and social media blogs of the day? You’d find Jesus of Nazareth caught-up in a scandal. Can you imagine the headlines? “Thousands disillusioned with Jesus after allegations of cannibalism.” “Messianic movement surrounding Jesus of Nazareth in trouble after scandal.” But what was the scandal all about?
I. The Feud with Jesus
The scandal surrounded these words of Jesus, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (v. 51) It isn’t hard to understand why Jesus’ words offended people. The idea of eating human flesh is abhorrent. This wasn’t simply a mistake or the result of some misunderstanding though. It wasn’t that Jesus was talking at too abstract a level. Instead, what He said challenged the way they viewed God.
When faced with the grumbling and complaining, what did Jesus do? “Oh, no you guys. I wasn’t being literal. Come on!” That is not how Jesus responded. Jesus instead of clarifying a misunderstanding, He intensified the force of what He had said. “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.” (v. 53) Jesus uses a new word for ‘eat’, and it is a very solidly physical one. It often means something like ‘munch’ or ‘chew.’ And if munching on human flesh isn’t offensive enough, Jesus speaks of drinking human blood.
They grumbled over Jesus’s words. They were offended. He dared to speak of His flesh as real food and His blood as real drink. They didn’t believe who He said He was, and so they were scandalized by His words. What began as a conversation where a crowd that was fed with real bread by Jesus, ended with the crowd thoroughly scandalized. Misunderstanding turned to grumbling and complaining, and finally to disgust. The more Jesus spoke, the further the crowds were distanced until they left.
By nature, everything that God does is scandalous to the natural, fleshly man. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4) We shouldn’t be surprised then, that the crowds cannot understand Jesus’ words. That they found him to be offensive was an indication of their spiritual state. They had not been born of God and without the Spirit they couldn’t understand. (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3) They couldn’t eat the bread that endures for eternal life. The problem was not that Jesus was unclear and confusing. It was that people did not have an appetite for what Jesus offered; they did not have eyes to see and ears to hear. The same is true of us all. We are flesh born from the flesh of Adam. What you received from your mother and your father was born already ruined. The source of all the scandals you hear about in the world is the darkness inside each of us. But now, through your baptism, you are born of the Spirit. And it is by that Spirit that you hear, believe and receive what Jesus has to give to you. This is not your own doing; it was granted to you by God the Father Almighty.
II. The Flesh of Jesus
“The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” That is the key to understanding all this flesh talk. Jesus is the eternal, divine Word become human flesh. In Him God became man. The Jews were scandalized that a mere man could make such claims. The scandal has to do with Jesus’ identity as the one who had come from the Father and was about to return to where he was.
A good number of people believe in the “Clockmaker” God. Many think the world is something that God built and started up. He wound it up, let it go. But, He has very little to do with it anymore. He got things going but now he’s out of the picture. He’s removed, distant, and uninvolved in the world. That’s not the real God. The real God gets too close for comfort. Yet that is precisely what is the most promising. There is finally no distance between God and man. What people find impossible to believe is that the God should come so close and that He should be embodied in one like Jesus.
There is no other God except the One who was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. If God is not the man who was born of Mary, and crucified under Pontius Pilate, then you have no salvation. We are flesh and blood creatures, and we need a flesh and blood Savior. The Bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is His flesh: the flesh conceived in the Virgin’s womb, the flesh born in Bethlehem, the flesh laid in a manger, the flesh that was scourged, nailed to the cross, and pierced by a spear, the flesh that was placed into a tomb and raised from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of the Father. His flesh is this very flesh which gives life to the world. Only Christ as true God and true man could be our saviour only His flesh and blood can save. The words flesh and blood imply this incarnate Christ has given his life in a violent death. His flesh has been broken. His blood has been shed. The life of the world is gained at the expense of the death of God. God became man and died on the cross, and now offers his flesh and blood to eat. That’s the scandal!
III. The Food of Jesus
The scandal of Jesus’ flesh and blood remains to this day a cause of division. Many today who claim to be true Christians reject things which Jesus taught. Those who deny that in the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine are the true Body and Blood of Christ are guilty of the same kind of unbelief as those Jews who were offended at Jesus’s words. The Jews said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat” (v. 52) How can bread be body, wine be blood? How can eating some bread forgive sins? How can this man give us Christ’s flesh to eat? Reason will tell us that all that’s there on the altar is plain old bread and wine and nothing more. This is as far as the flesh can take us. And if flesh is all we had, then death is all we have to look forward to.
However, Jesus declared that in order to be truly united with him, it is necessary for his followers to ‘munch’ his flesh and drink his blood. This flesh is the bread of life, which Jesus himself gave, and it was broken in death, so that those who eat of it may not die but have eternal life right now, and be raised up on the last day. Eating Jesus’ flesh and blood unites us to the One who defeated death and now lives and reigns to all eternity! His flesh and blood are the antidote to our Sin, the “medicine of immortality.” His flesh and blood are what our food can never truly be: life-giving.
The Lord’s Supper is an exercise of faith in Jesus’ words. Do not think of the elements as mere bread and wine. Because of the Lord’s words, they are body and blood. Do not judge the issue on the basis of your reason or senses, but on the basis of Jesus’ Words. In Holy Communion, Jesus completely hides everything and bids us to trust Him, take Him at His word. This is my Body; this is my blood. No explanations or equivocations. Just His words. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (v. 63). Be assured beyond all doubt that you are going to receive His true body and blood. Jesus’ words do the work. These words require all hearts to believe, to trust in Jesus, to take Him at this Word. This meal is of no benefit to you if you don’t trust Jesus! The Lord’s Supper is a place where He teaches us to trust Him when we cannot see for ourselves, so that when we stare into that dark pit of Death, we cling to nothing but His words. We can only trust Him because His Spirit filled words have given us life!
The scandal of munching on Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood now becomes clear. To eat the flesh given for the life of the world is to be united to the Cross, where death was destroyed by death. Today you will receive the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death. Whoever eats the holy flesh of Christ has eternal life because the very flesh and blood of Jesus which were once offered on the cross for our sins, are now delivered and distributed to us as a Meal. Here the Son of God gives His life to you. God isn’t an absentee Landlord kind of God. The reality of Jesus – the reality of God- can be held in the hand and eaten and digested. He who eats this bread shall live forever.
And may this peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.