God’s People, part 222: Offended Disciples

Read John 7:32-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The life of every creature is in its blood. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood, for the life of any creature is in its blood.’ So whoever consumes blood will be cut off from the community.”  (Leviticus 17:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

holy-communion-5Part 222: At the start of John 6:60-71, Jesus was being questioned by his disciples for something he had just taught. He was in his hometown of Nazareth and he was teaching people about himself and about his relationship with God. What’s more, he was also teaching his theological significance, foreshadowing his role as the sacrificial lamb that removes the sins of the world. Theologically speaking, this text is also explaining the significance of what would go on to be the sacrament known as the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion.  This is one of the two sacraments that Jesus, himself, instituted and this passage is one of the passages of institution, along with the actual Last Supper he had with his disciples.

Before we can get to the disciples’ response, we have to first understand what Jesus was teaching and the context in which he was teaching it. Jesus was telling the crowds that he was the Bread of Life sent down from heaven. This imagery is parallel to the act of God feeding the Israelites with Manna sent down from the heavens. Jesus is likening himself to that bread, which sustained the Israelites in their 40 year journey through the barren wilderness.

This teaching directly followed Jesus feeding the five thousand, and many people were following him because they saw that miraculous sign. Jesus, seeing that numbers that were following him, let them know that he knew their reason for following him was misguided. They were wowed by the fact that he fed them fish and bread, not because they truly understood what they saw. He also warned them to not be caught up by nourishment that is perishable, but rather they should invest their time in seeking eternal life.

He then proceeded to tell them that the same God that sent their ancestors manna from heaven, God is now sending them the true bread from heaven…namely, Jesus Christ. He then proceeded to challenge their unbelief in him and that only those who believe in him will have eternal life. To sum it up, he then proceeded to tell him that not only is he the true bread from heaven, but those who eat that bread, which is his flesh, will live forever. In fact, those who eat his bread and those who drink his blood will have eternal life.

In the Jewish context, this teaching would be impossible for anyone to accept. They had strict dietary laws of what they could eat, and what they could not eat. The drinking of any animal’s blood was strictly prohibited, let alone the blood of a human being. What’s more, cannibalism was also strictly prohibited. So, it would have been impossible for most Jews to accept this teaching. Let’s be honest, it is impossible for most human beings to accept this teaching.

Of course, Jesus didn’t mean it literally; rather, he was using the flesh and blood as symbols of what he as about to do on the cross as well as sacramental commemoration of it, which would be forever imbued with his living, transformative, presence and grace. Still, many of the disciples just simply could not accept this teaching and, sadly, they left him as a result of it. When Jesus turned and asked his twelve disciples if they would leave as well, Peter famously answered, “Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.’”  (John 6:68-69, NLT)

Many people today, including some Christians, will say that they are grossed out by the concept of Holy Eucharist or Communion, because it feels cannibalistic; however, as John Wesley understood it, this holy sacrament is a means of grace for those who partake. It not only symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice for us and calls us to be a people of sacrificial love as well, but it also mysteriously fills us with grace and Christ’s presence. The question is this, will we be like the offended disciples who refuse to accept Jesus simply because we cannot wrap our heads around his teachings, or will we let him penetrate our hearts to the point where we see him, like the 12 disciples did, as the Holy One of God who has the words that give eternal life? I pray that we all respond to Christ as Peter did.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the Moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.” – Buzz Aldrin

PRAYER
Lord, where else would I go? You have the words that lead to eternal life. I do believe that you are the Holy One sent by God. Bring me into closer communion with you. Amen.

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