Tag Archives: Eucharist

God’s People, part 222: Offended Disciples

Read John 7:32-36

“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.

“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

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.

SON OF GOD: Maundy Thursday

Read John 13:21-30

For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays Him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)

JudasHave you ever read the story of Jesus’ betrayal in the Gospels? Have you ever noticed the sentiment conveyed about Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus? Have you ever noticed that as you read through the Gospels chronologically in the order they were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), that there is a progression from cold to seething despise in the representation of Judas and his final act of betrayal? In Mark and Matthew, Judas’ actions are more or less presented in a very “matter of fact” way. Judas decides to betray Jesus, for which no reason is given, and he gets paid for the betrayal. In Luke, the author writes that “Satan entered Judas Iscariot” which led him to go to the high priests. In John, Jesus calls Judas “a devil” (John 6:70) and Judas was possessed by Satan, who entered him following eating the bread at the Last Supper (John 13:26).

Since the moment he decided to betray Jesus, Judas has certainly gone down in infamy. He has been forever remembered as the man who betrayed the prince of peace. What sort of man would do such a thing? How could he have possibly even thought that betraying Jesus is a good thing? These questions, and more, to this day remain unanswered. We’ll never know why Judas did what he did. It is easy to understand why a growing number of Christians, from the Gospel writers onward, came to despise him for betraying our Lord. Yet, the ironic part is while we hold Judas accountable (perhaps more than accountable) for his actions, we give the other disciples a complete pass. After all, while Judas actively betrayed Jesus, didn’t the others betray him too? Which one of them stood by Jesus’ side in his time of need? They all deserted, they all fled, they all abandoned him…and in some sense…they all betrayed him.

Yet all of the Gospel accounts are consistent on one thing, if not on their view of Judas himself. They are all consistent on the fact that Judas was welcome at the table of grace, on the fact that Judas was welcome to share in the last supper, but a Jesus who was well aware of his deceit. While we’ll never know what was in Jesus’ mind at the time, it is consistent with his teaching on not judging, and loving even one’s enemies. In fact, Judas wasn’t an enemy at all, he was a friend and he was a trusted confidant of Jesus’. Yet, instead of reacting negatively toward Judas, Jesus pitied him and made room for him at the Last Supper. I would like to believe that Jesus wished that Judas would be able to forgive himself and eventually rejoin the disciples in spreading the Gospel message; however, I also believe that Jesus knew that Judas would never be able to.

The question for us, out of all of this, is how far are you willing to take the Jesus’ command to love? By his very example, Jesus showed us that he wasn’t being hypothetical or theoretical in his calling for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies. How far are you willing to go in your love of others? Will you love others, including your enemies, even if it comes at a great personal cost? Today’s challenge, as we approach the Lord’s table of grace at the Last Supper, is to reflect on your call LOVE OTHERS, just as Christ has loved you. Will you follow Jesus in living a life of LOVE, or will you abandon him and his cause for your own comfort and safety? The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:46-48 NLT)

Lord, help me to open myself up to your love and help me grow to be a person who more fully loves others, even those who I would otherwise consider to be my enemies. Amen.