Monday, August 13, 2012

A Flesh & Blood Jesus? Homily for John 6:51-58
Homily first posted 8.19.12
JOHN 6:51-58 
Year B

With today’s Lectionary Gospel reading, again from John 6, we have an ongoing series of texts which began three weeks ago and which will end next week, and we have a series of texts that continues the consequences coming from the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000. The aftermath of that miracle brings to us an ever-heightening and a stinging confrontation between Jesus and Judaeans, which in today’s reading finally heats-up white-hot, and begins the crowd’s movement away from Jesus.

As we said last week, this miracle account clearly exhibited to his audience Jesus' understanding of the Kingdom, with himself being presented as King. And further, we said that, when Jesus proclaims:

“I am the bread of life,”
“I am manna from heaven,”
he means us to understand that:
But the Judaeans want none of this. So, when Jesus goes on to say:
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
they question his words, taking offense. But Jesus does not back-down, proclaiming:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
Well, you can imagine how the Judaeans heard this word, this difficult teaching:
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Of course they didn’t understand. Who could?

And so, Jesus, rather than backing off and explaining himself so they could get the hang of it, instead strongly gouges the point home, saying:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This text is such a fierce enigma that it seems to defy logic and the regular use of words. Eat his flesh? Drink his Blood? No wonder the Judaeans stumble. What could this mean? 

Before attempting an answer, one should ask just why Jesus was so emphatic and in your face to his listeners. There is a lesson here for us. We post-modern preachers usually take quite a different approach to our audiences, don't we? We are more diplomatic, more calculating. Which means we usually offer five different solutions to three difficult problems, hoping to meet the needs of our congregants, to be sure, but also only saying what will not disrupt the offering. (“Tell it not in Gath!”) Am I too mean-spirited? Perhaps.

Anyway, today I propose to wrestle with this text by offering three statements. Statements that are given as a way to help us enter the text and to think-through what is at stake here.

We see in this text:

The Humanity of the Son
The Unity with the Son
The Meal of the Son

The Humanity of the Son

There is much in this reading for our understanding and encouragement. But, we must remember from the outset that what was important to the Judaeans may not be so for us.

For example, what was painfully obvious to the Judaeans was that Jesus, whatever else they believed or didn’t believe about him, was a real, live flesh and blood human being. That was why when he made what seemed to be such grandiose statements to them,
"I am the bread that came down from heaven,"
they responded:
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven?'"
You see, they knew where Jesus lived; they knew of his hometown and his parents. They knew him as rooted in the world they shared. So, how could he say he had come down from heaven? This made no sense.

It is different today. Today many believers have little trouble believing those great, heavenly claims about Jesus. And, because many have been so caught-up with the cultural confrontation which questions Jesus’ alignment with the Creator -- just who is he in relationship with the Father? -- the current tendency is to de-emphasize the reality of Jesus’ humanity so as to focus on his claim to deity. (see last weeks homily for more on this claim).

My response is simple: “O dear brothers and sisters, cling to the humanity of Jesus and never let loose of this reality.” 

We must never allow ourselves to slide into the old heresies, even dressed as they are in the new fashion of post-modern clothing. To be sure, they display up-to-date styles, but they still carry the stench of false teachings.

Said as plainly as I know how: We fear Jesus’ humanity, especially his Jewishness, because we think it somehow detracts from his relationship with the Father. This is not true. The humanness of Jesus, rooted in the particularity of one time and one place, is actually the basis of his genuine reality and the power from which his work and ministry blossoms.

If I might risk being crass, have you ever been around the sick and the dying? Then you know that the human body, while quite a marvel, also carries with it stink and bile as well. And this is the reality of who Jesus is. Which means, the fact that Jesus’ humanity was (is) real, permanent and truly bodily may make us squirm, even so it must be swallowed all the way as GOD's most precious gift to the world.

So, when Jesus says:
“eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood...”
he is offering us the greatest gift of all. For, within the broken humanness of Jesus, hanging on the empire’s cross, we find the reality and the true meaning of humanness, and the hope for real life lived beyond the limits that the powers of darkness and empire impose, that which is beyond the dismay of scarcity and despair of death.

Do you want to see the meaning of true humanness? Then, look to the cross...

The Unity with the Son

But, our connection with the Son is deeper than just sharing his new brand of humanity, as important as that is. When Jesus says:
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
he is opening to us the reality of our common unity with the Father and the Son’s life purpose for the world. 

That is, once we take on the way of the Son -- once we eat his flesh and drink his blood -- we come into a unity of life-walk with the Son and a unity of world-purpose with the Father. 

Or, said differently, once we are mysteriously drawn by the Father, and we decide to follow the Jesus-way, we then become part of a Kingdom of priests, who, following Jesus, absorb the brokenness of the world, and who live out a day-by-day calling of non-violent sacrificial love and an ongoing reconciled forgiveness

That means as we follow the Jesus-way and as we follow GOD's purposes for the world, we show the way to a new humanity, we show a new way to live in the world, and we display before-hand what the resurrected life will be like in the Kingdom when it fully comes.

Here John the Revelator in this regard:
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 14b-6)
This, then, is what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It means to follow the Jesus-way. It means to accept the call to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom. It means to live the Kingdom way before the Kingdom is finalized. Or, as Jesus said later in John:
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:20-22)

The Meal of the Son

Finally, then, it is clear that Jesus, when asking the crowd to
“eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood”
is also alluding to the new community meal that he will give at the last supper, which is itself an eternal reference to his death on the cross.

Much ink has been spilled over what the Table of the Lord means, not to mention the blood, but it seems that one idea is very clear. Quoting Gordon Lathrop here:
“Christianity is not just an idea or a list of convictions. It is not primarily a religious inclination that an individual might have or a technique to equip an individual with spiritual realities...Rather, quite concretely, quite physically, Christianity is a meeting. Or, more exactly, the Christianity that is associated with the four Gospels is a specific kind of meeting; it is a meal fellowship. As such, this Christianity is an invitation for us together to see both God and the world anew from the perspective of the table, of that shared food.” (fromThe Pastor, pg. 59)
Whatever else Christianity is then, it must be seen as a meal, a fellowship meal at a table spread before his new flesh and blood community, comprised as it is of both Jew and Gentile, and spread out before them by the LORD himself. This is a table composed of his body and his blood which was brutalized by the powers of darkness and forces of empire. This is a table that proclaims in the life, death and resurrection of the Son that there is on display and on offer the fulfilled promises of the GOD who truly loves the world all the way to the very end. Here, in the table of the LORD, we see that in Christ GOD never, not once, abandoned the world, although that world abandoned him. And here we see in the table of the LORD that GOD was in Christ reconciling the world and renewing it to health.

This means that the body of the Son, that real, live flesh and blood body, was broken and bled for us. This is the heart of the Gospel and this is the meaning of the community meal. 

Now, of course, most post-moderns find this offensive. Most post-moderns choose not to think of this death as real or necessary. They see the brutal breaking of Jesus as having nothing whatsoever to do with them, saying, “I didn’t ask him to die for me, and I don’t want his death.”

But, what they fail to see, and we have not been very helpful at this point, is that the death of the Savior by evil and by empire was actually GOD’s response to the brokenness of his own good world, and therefore occurred for the peace and reclamation of that world ruined by sin and held captive by evil and by empire.

At this table, then, this table of the Son, the table he himself instituted and prepared, Jesus invites us to partake of this new life, offered through his death and though his resurrection. At his table we are in communion with the Son, finding the promise of life, renewal, peace, and the reality of community and of true humanness. And, at his table we find the promise of the reality of the present and future Kingdom.

Or, said differently, what we dream for the world in our heart of hearts -- peace, hope, a common humanness -- was actually accomplished when the Son died, for the the internal brokenness of the world was healed. This is what will be revealed when the Son appears. And this is what is offered in the community meal -- the shared memorial and the shared community life of the Son.