Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

by Crossings

“What Is It?”
John 6:56-69
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)
Analysis by Carolyn Schneider

56Those 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.” 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.”

DIAGNOSIS: Grumbling, “He’s flesh and blood, like us.”

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – “This bread is everyday bread.”
Verse 58 sets the scene for this conversation, drawing the reader back to the wilderness in Exodus 16, where the people complained against the Lord about lack of food and were given manna (literally, “what is it?”) for their daily bread. Now the people have come to Jesus out of spiritual hunger and he quotes Moses with a twist: “I am the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:15). Having been students of the synagogue themselves, Jesus’ own listeners knew the way the story was supposed to go-and this was not it. They complained. First of all, Jesus was no gift from heaven; they knew his parents. He was just flesh and blood like they were. Secondly, in the original story, Aaron drew the people near to the Lord and gave them instructions as to how to handle the manna. Jesus’ instructions were different and unthinkable: “Eat my flesh”?!

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – “The exclusive claims about this bread are excessive.”
Jesus explained that eating his flesh meant believing in his fleshly person as the means by which God gives eternal life to other fleshly people. But which other people? Those whom the Father has drawn to himself; those who were chosen. It was, after all, the twelve tribes who benefited from the manna in the wilderness. Jesus’ listeners balked again. This was too much-that is, it made too much of Jesus. Why should trusting in this human flesh of Jesus be a mark of God’s favor? We know that God’s favor is based on the way people follow God’s instructions. Isn’t that what the Psalm says, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” (Psalm 34:15-16) What is righteous and what is evil? What are God’s instructions? Not, “eat my flesh,” that’s for sure. And many of Jesus’ listeners left him because they had learned better elsewhere about what God required and did not require.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – “The expiration date on this bread is too close.”
They left because Jesus had brought them out to the wilderness “to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). They had learned from him that he himself was the food that God had prepared to quench spiritual hunger-but only those whom God had called to Jesus would be satisfied. Many concluded that if there were no guarantee of personal satisfaction, it was better not to risk it. After all, what made this Jesus any better than them? They were equally mortal. It was safer for them to go back home and prepare their own food-that is, do the things they themselves knew were God-pleasing. But in verse 63 we are told that what we do in our own flesh is useless. This refusal to trust what Jesus was saying about himself would not gain life. We can die at home in our flesh without God’s favor or die in the wilderness with Jesus. Those are the options.

PROGNOSIS: Rejoicing, “He’s flesh and blood like us!”

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – “The dough in this bread rises again.”
Human flesh cannot escape death. We can’t be released from death for good behavior. John knew that his readers would understand that even Jesus himself did not get off for good behavior. Instead, God created a way for us to live by sending the Son in the flesh to share the daily life and bread of the flesh and its final death. But God raised his human flesh to new and unending life in order to make Jesus himself a new living standard. He is, as Peter has confessed, “the Holy One of God” (v. 69). Jesus’ righteousness makes it possible for other fleshly people to live. How? By believing, for these words bear Jesus’ Spirit to human flesh and the Spirit gives that flesh life. (This puts a new spin on Psalm 34.)

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – “Certain ingredients are included in this bread.”
John 6 seems to pose riddles: “Eat my flesh-the flesh is useless.” Indeed, “this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (v. 60). Well, those whom the Father has drawn to himself. How does this “drawing” happen? The Father draws people to him by making them aware of the futility of their flesh. Jesus picked up his students out of the water where John the baptizer had prepared them with the promise-that one was coming who would take away their sin and wash them with the Holy Spirit. If God is stripping you of your own immortality, your own righteousness, your own sense of divine/human checks and balances, then take heart! You are one whom the Father is drawing to the Son. He first drew near to us to share our flesh, and in him God stripped himself of immortality, righteousness and sense of divine/human accounting to do a new thing.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – “This bread makes any occasion special.”
“Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but againstÉthe cosmic powers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). The new life that the Spirit creates by joining humans to Jesus is still (for now) a life in the flesh. But the “fleshpots” that once kept people in slavery no longer do. “We will serve the LordÉwho brought us and our ancestors upÉout of the house of slavery” (Joshua 24:15-17). The Spirit is free and makes free. And God rains down not only the daily bread that the body needs, but also the eternal bread that “redeems the life ofÉthose who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:22). The Spirit clothes us (in this armor, as Ephesians says) so that we can stand in truth, righteousness-ready to speak the good news of peace, faith, and salvation.


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