Are you tired of talking about bread yet? These last 5 weeks in John 6 have actually been refreshing for me. As I have the theme “fed to feed” and the verses of John 3:16-17, I have been able to hear these verses in new ways. That doesn’t mean I am anywhere near an expert and that I still don’t have questions regarding these verses. Some of what Jesus has done in these last 71 verses has been amazing and some of it has left me uncomfortable. And it’s tempting for me to want to only hear what I like and ignore the other stuff. But then again, “Lord to whom shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus asks his disciples an interesting question in this weeks reading. “Does this offend you” (v61)? This could also be translated as “does this scandalize you?” or “anger, offend, shock, to cause one to stumble, or cause one to sin.” Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus asking his disciples and us “does my teaching cause you to sin?”
Well, yeah, Jesus. We get it, you’ve talked about bread for 5 weeks straight. You’ve talked about the bread of life, the body and blood, you’ve fed people. You’ve talked about bread that gives life, not like the stuff our ancestors got in the wilderness. You’ve talked about eating your flesh and drinking your blood as a way to eternal life. And maybe we’ve struggled with some of this. So does it cause us to sin? Yeah maybe. Because to be a disciple of Jesus, and not just the twelve, but us too means that we are in a relationship with Jesus. And being in relationship with Jesus means hearing him and listening to him. Often through these last 71 verses Jesus has said “whosoever…” and then the command finished with “will have eternal life.” That’s where it gets hard. We may hear those words, but we certainly don’t want to listen. It makes us uncomfortable. When Jesus doesn’t put parameters on his words, it makes us uncomfortable because it leaves room in God’s kingdom for those that we’d rather leave out.
“Whosoever” certainly doesn’t mean those that undocumented, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean those who are undocumented, couldn’t take “no” for an answer, and then take the life of a young, talented, beautiful woman, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean a Colorado father responsible for the deaths of his family, does it? “Whosoever” doesn’t mean those that open fire in school buildings full of students, does it? Come on, Jesus. Certainly you had some exceptions, right? Does this cause us to sin? YES! Because the thing is, we don’t want to share any single part of God’s kingdom with “those” kind of people. Our stumbling blocks, my beloved, to really listening are many and varied. But, what it comes down to is that our main stumbling block is our own sin. We are quick to judge. We are slow to forgive. We hold a grudge like its an olympic sport. So sure, we abide in Christ and he in us. But, we’ll be damned if “those” other people get a chance at this abiding stuff.
Does listening to Jesus cause us to sin? Well, not really. Our own disbelief causes us to not listen to Jesus and thus sin. Because Jesus can’t be who he says he is, right? Jesus, son of God, sent because God so loved the world couldn’t possibly love that much, could he? Jesus certainly couldn’t be the bread of life and cup of salvation, could he? He couldn’t be this bread and cup for the whole world, could he? Jesus couldn’t be God in the flesh, could he? That’s just not possible. We don’t want to believe that Christ is who he says he is because that means that the teachings of Jesus are the ones we should be following and believing. It means that the teachings that have fed us for so long we now must use to feed others, even those we’d rather leave starving in the streets.
We want Jesus to hate the same people we do. We want Jesus to look on the world like we do. We don’t want to proclaim love through word and deed, we don’t want to care for others and the world God made, and we certainly don’t want to work for justice and peace. So it would be great if Jesus could believe the same way. But he doesn’t. Our own expectations of Jesus, the ones we gladly and willfully placed on him haven’t measured up. And that’s not on Jesus. That’s on us. We expect Jesus to fulfil our expectations instead of the other way around. And it doesn’t happen and we are left disappointed. So are Jesus’ teachings difficult? Yes. Jesus’ teachings are so difficult because they are filled with love and grace. If we don’t believe that we are given these things by Christ through nothing that we do, then are we really going to believe that Christ gives his love and grace to those we’d rather not associate with?
And although these teachings are difficult, Lord, where else are we going to go? You, you alone, you are the one who gives us the words of eternal life. We may be tempted to look other places. But it is Christ alone who gives us the words of eternal life. While Christ always abides in us, thanks to sin, we may not always abide in him. Remember that sin is what comes between us and Christ. But the third day shows us it is never too late to abide in Christ. The empty tomb is an ongoing promise and invitation of abiding. The empty tomb invites us to drop our expectations and accept Christ for who he really is: the bread of life and cup of salvation. The bread of life that provides life for 5000 on a grassy hillside. Enough for everyone to get their fill and then have leftovers. The bread of life that promises a life eternal. The bread of life that is a promise of abiding.
Are these teachings difficult? Yes. But you know what isn’t difficult? God’s love through Jesus Christ. We are witnesses of this love through the waters of baptism. We are witnesses of this love through bread and wine. We are witnesses of this love when our expectations are crushed. When we see how God really loves the world, that is, with no exceptions, our expectations are crushed. And we are reminded that Jesus keeps his promises. Everything that Jesus has ever promised us will come to fruition, 5000 fold, abundant life. For you, for Emerie, for me. I think what makes these teachings so difficult is that love is maddening and so rewarding. We are freed from our expectations. We are filled and fed. We are fed to feed others. Even in the midst of knowing one of the disciples would betray him, Jesus promised a life to all, and a life abundant. Are these teachings difficult? Yes. But, thanks be to God we have the waters of baptism to wash away our expectations. Thanks be to God we have the third day and an empty tomb. Thanks be to God we have a God who so loved the world. A world that will be saved through Jesus. And that includes us. When Jesus says “whosoever believes this” I pray you include yourself in this, my beloved. And if you find these teachings hard, well, there’s grace for that. There’s always bread for the journey. And we are fed with an abundance. Grace upon grace is a real thing. Make that your expectation. Make Jesus your expectation. You’ll never be disappointed.