Sunday, August 26, 2018

John 6:56-69 Feasting Upon the Word

Oh Lord this reading is hard…we have been talking about this for weeks and yet Jesus goes on speaking about the bread of life, about him being the bread of life and how we must consume that bread and drink his blood.  Ugh! Does he have to be so graphic?  Why is this so hard to hear?  Why do his own followers walk away?

I have to tell a story Now this is kind of telling on someone, but we had a congregant back in NoHo who stopped coming to church because at communion we were eating of the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ and that was cannibalism.

One commentator believes we need to move away from the metaphor...

“In Jewish culture, the idea of ​​eating meat with blood was taboo. In fact, it was a prohibition given to humanity in general after the flood in Genesis 9: 4. The Law repeats this prohibition to the people of Israel (Lv 17:11, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:23). In addition, blood and fat were the parts of the animal that were to be given exclusively to God in the sacrifices (Lev 3: 16-17; 4: 18-35; 9: 18-20). Thus, the reference to the flesh and blood in these words of Jesus has nothing to do with the Eucharist (although historically it has been interpreted that way and some believe that this section about flesh and blood was added to the original discourse) , but with the sacrifice of the tabernacle or the temple that restored or celebrated the communion between the believer and God. Truly, we must not concentrate on the metaphors of bread / meat / blood that Jesus uses throughout the chapter, but on what is done with those elements: eating. To eat the manna in the desert was to receive life. To eat the separated loaves for the priests of the temple was to have communion with God. Also to eat the sacrificed meat on the altar was, for the believing Jew, to have communion with the same God. Eating is synonymous with accepting, receiving, believing, trusting, welcoming, staying, etc., all words that the Gospel of John uses repeatedly to describe the challenge with which Jesus confronts us-the obligation of the true disciple or the true disciple. to remain faithful to the Lord and to remain in communion with Him. And given the context of sacrifice in the words "flesh and blood," the nuance here is that we must accept Christ, not only descended from heaven but also raised on the cross (Jn 3:14). In this approach, according to which the person and the way of Jesus are understood both through the cross and through the resurrection, all the gospels are in agreement.”[1]

I like his explanation sort of but for me it robs John’s Gospel of it s approach though he does keep the heart of the message.
How does Johns Gospel open?

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
This [Word] was in the beginning with God.
Everything came to be through [the Word],
And apart from [the Word] nothing at all came to be.
What came to be in [the Word] was Life,
And the Life was the light of human beings.
And the Light shines in Darkness,
And the Darkness did not master [the Light] ….

The Genuine Light, which enlightens every human being, was coming into the World.

He was in the world,
And the world came to be through [the Light];
And the world did not know [the Light].
[The Light] came to his own,
And his own did not accept him.
But as many accepted him,
He gave them power to become children of God.
[They were the ones] who believed in his name,
Who were not born of blood,
Nor of will of flesh,
Nor the will of man,
But of God.

And the word became flesh…[2]

The commentator wants us to move away from metaphor and struggle with the literal concept of consuming that which feeds us with God at table. But I hear something different if we listen to how John opens this Gospel with Metaphor as Jesus being the Word of God with us from the beginning through which all things are made then the word became flesh and walked among us ministered to us taught us and then returned to heaven leaving us nothing but…His word.  We are called to feast upon the word of Christ. We are called to feast upon the Gospel.

“Eating is synonymous with accepting, receiving, believing, trusting, welcoming, staying, etc., all words that the Gospel of John uses repeatedly to describe the challenge with which Jesus confronts us-the obligation of the true disciple or the true disciple. to remain faithful to the Lord and to remain in communion with Him.”[3]

I suspect some people in Jesus’ crowd heard these words with this exact interpretation some did not but those who were challenged by Jesus words used the excuse that his words are too hard. Much like the young man asked how to get to heaven…he was already doing what was easy for him. Keeping the Sabbath…Tithing, feeding the hungry…So Jesus says let’s go a step further sell all you own give it away and follow me…the man went away sad because the call was too hard….

“Throughout this chapter's discussion about the bread which gives life, Jesus' words have been greeted with misunderstanding, confusion, and objection from the crowd, referred to either simply as "they" or "the Jews." In verse 60, we hear about the reaction from the "disciples" (in John not to be equated with "the twelve"; see verse 67). We may expect better things from them. After all, they were the ones who sat together with Jesus at the beginning of this text, who followed Jesus' instructions in gathering up the leftovers of the bread and fish, and who were rescued from the storm at sea by Jesus. Perhaps most importantly, we expect that "the disciples" belong to "us," and not to "them."
Thus we may be stunned when we hear that the disciples are now the ones who are bothered by what Jesus has said. We may have been tempted to simply write off the rest of the crowd as stubborn and obtuse, but the reference to "the disciples" sounds uncomfortably close to home. In verse 61, the disciples begin to grumble (NRSV "complain"), just as "the Jews" did in verse 41. Here, the problem seems not so much that the disciples have difficulty understanding what Jesus is saying; they understand quite well but cannot believe and follow what Jesus has said. How often do we find the same to be true about ourselves?

As has been Jesus' habit throughout this conversation, he meets objections by sharpening the point of his message, raising the offense rather than softening it, and thereby bringing the conversation to a crisis. In verse 62, Jesus points to his "going up" (NRSV "ascending"). We may think first of Luke's ascension scene, but we need to remember that this is John's story, and in John's telling Jesus returns to the Father by being lifted up on the cross.”[4]

Some of the followers of Christ can already see where all this is leading there have been a few hints along the way as Jesus has upset some of the Leadership of the community. This is too hard…others just hear the literal as opposed to the metaphor and do not even try and dismiss Jesus. Others are still seeking literal food not understanding that they will just be hungry again and not fulfilled.
Another commentator reflects;

“The text tells us: "Since then many of his disciples went back and no longer walked with him" (v. 66). Why did they stop following Jesus? Is it because they did not understand the way Jesus offered the eternal bread? Is it possible that some have believed that Jesus would give them a bread that literally would not end? In a society of scarcity like Jesus, the idea of ​​endless sustenance would undoubtedly have attracted many. But we see through the scriptures that God's plan has never been to serve as a food-providing machine. The earth in its fullness has always been able to supply humanity and the creatures of the world with what is necessary. But human greed has created systems of inequality that favor a few and leave most people in a state of need.”[5]

This statement made my mind jump my train of thought often jumps the track but this time it is on track, I hope, for this lead me to think about feeding the hungry and what it means especially since one of the greatest inequalities in this world remains food!

The First Sunday of every month, our communion Sunday, we collect food for the redwood empire food bank.  The canister to drop dry goods off is in the fellowship hall.  This month we had the canister over half full.  It is not a lot when you go the warehouse and see their huge shelves just waiting to be filled but it helps. Every little bit helps.

But what does it mean to be hungry? Bread for the world explains it this way.

 “Everyone feels hungry on a daily basis. Most people are able to satisfy this craving and need. Even if not immediately, they can count on having a meal or snack within hours. This is not the type of hunger that Bread is concerned with.

People who suffer chronic hunger don’t have the option of eating when they are hungry. They do not get enough calories, essential nutrients, or both. People who are hungry have an ongoing problem with getting food to eat. They have a primary need — how to feed themselves and their children today and tomorrow. They have little energy for anything else…

It is commonly known that the cause of hunger in the world is not a shortage of food but rather access to food.

Some people are hungry because food is in short supply in their area and for a specific reason. It may be because they can’t afford to buy enough food. It may be both.

Some countries have a “hunger season” every year. It's when the previous harvest is gone, and the next harvest is not yet ready. It can last as long as three or four months.

The U.S. doesn’t have that kind of a hunger season, but for many families, some weeks are hungrier than others. These usually come toward the end of the month, as families run short of food before they have money to buy more. People can’t simply decide to spend less on rent, but if necessary, they can spend less on food.

For many low-wage workers, retirees, people with disabilities, and their families, even careful planning cannot stretch the grocery budget throughout the month. Less expensive — and less nutritious — filler foods can keep children’s stomachs from growling, but they can’t provide what children need to grow and learn. Adults who are missing meals because they can’t afford to buy food can’t concentrate as well at work…

People in certain conditions, whether they live in the developing world or the United States, are extremely vulnerable to hunger. A month of bad weather for a farmer or an illness for a worker and a loss of income can mean less food and the prospect of hunger.

Food insecurity is the more formal term for this condition. People living with food insecurity lack a stable, reliable means of getting the meals they need.”[6]

Since we are collaborating with the redwood Empire Food bank who work to eliminate hunger and food insecurity in the area I thought I could share some of their statistics with you as well.
First off where does the food bank get their food well 55% is donated fresh produce, 17% is donated groceries, 10% is purchased wholesale, 15% comes from USDA commodities, and 5% is through community Food drives.[7]

That puts our donation in that 17% of donated groceries that may sound like a little but as I said every little bit helps. The food bank delivers that food through 12 of their own innovative programs and the rest is distributed through a 170 partner organizations which are in 27 cities. Here in Petaluma they distribute food through...

Assembly Apostolica Church
COTS Committee on the Shelterless
Elim Lutheran Church
Petaluma Christian Church
Salvation Army Petaluma
Sonoma County Independent Living Skills Inc..

They also had special distribution sites during the fires here in Sonoma county.
As we feast on the word of God…Literally as we share in the table of remembrance called communion we also share a table with those who around us are hungry for real food.  In October we will look at an opportunity to reach out to the world and partner with bread for the world on their bread for the world Sunday.

 You see “God's plan has always been to live in communion with his people; God is still waiting for us to create a world that reflects the image of God-in love, justice, fulfillment, mercy, equality, etc. We see it in Genesis, when God created the human being to share in the work of creation. We see it in the Law, according to which the sacrifices have in mind a companionship between God and the person and community. We see it in the Prophets, who insist on the responsibilities of the people to form a just society. And John, at last, tells us that the Word that created the world became flesh to call people to a community opposed to the values ​​of the Roman Empire and any political or economic system that dehumanizes the being”[8]  Jesus is always calling us to be an anti-Imperial, anti-hierarchical society in which its members, are empowered by the Spirit that Jesus emphasizes in the fourth gospel, live in communion with God and with one another. We are called to Feast upon the word and share in communion as one people, one spirit, and the one body of Christ. Amen

[2] King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.

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