41At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43″Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44″No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
John’s Gospel as a whole contains mountains and mountains of stories relating various peoples’ objections to Jesus. There was always someone discontent with something he said, or something he did, or who he spoke to or with, or who he ate with, or where he went. These verses today begin with that idea: “At this, the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” There was some deep seated dislike, distrust and hatred of Jesus inside these people. And here’s the irony. The story that precipitated all this conversation was the miracle of the loaves and fish. When Jesus did that, everyone wanted to make him a king. As the story has developed in John’s Gospel, the people have grown more and more angry, more and more disconcerted, more and more distant, and eventually, they turn away from him altogether and ‘follow him no longer.’
But why were the people so offended? What was so difficult for them to comprehend? Jesus gave them two scenarios. In one scenario, they were fed some bread that filled their bellies for a day until they were hungry again. In a second scenario, they were fed The Bread of Life and were satisfied forever. Again with the irony: They did not want bread that would help them live forever. They wanted bread on the table today. You know as well as I do that in the church today, many are saying: Jesus is all about bread on your table today. And as long as preachers say this, the flocks will grow. But as soon as Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (and he said it more than once, to be sure!), the people ran away, fast and furious.
These words, Jesus says, are not something to grumble over or about or because of. They simply did not like that Jesus said, “I came down from heaven.’ And they grumbled. And grumbled. And grumbled. Then they ‘argue sharply among themselves.’ John says later, in verse 61, ‘aware that his disciples were grumbling about this…’ Then some turn back and ‘no longer follow him.’ I sense in here, to a degree, that Jesus just kept raising the ante, the bar, the standard, the qualifications for being truly considered his disciple. And the more he raised the bar, the more they raised their voices in protest. He said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then they argue. Clearly they were not too well versed in the use of metaphor.
They missed some things in Jesus’ words. They missed that he said he would raise them up at the last day (43), they missed that he said ‘everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me’ (45), they missed him saying that he had seen God (46), they missed that whoever believes has everlasting life (47), they missed that humans who seek to subsist on mere bread will die (48), they missed that there is a bread a person can eat and not die (50), that whoever eats the bread will live forever (51). They missed all this ‘live forever’ nonsense and focused in on that one tiny phrase ‘eat his flesh.’ At the same time, Jesus did not mince his words. There is no life at all apart from our appropriating his flesh into ours. There is no eternity save for those who have found their only survival in His survival. There is no eternal life for those who steadfastly refuse to participate in the life and death of Jesus. There is no eternal life for those who are more and only concerned about a king who feeds bellies here with bread that is not of himself. But Jesus shows the absolute pricelessness of what He offers to humanity when he says, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the World.” How can any such sacrifice have a value stamped upon it? His sacrifice for the world is beyond compare, beyond measure, beyond our comprehension. It is incomparable; utterly unrepeatable.
This caused only more argumentative debating and grumbling among the people. Strange or funny how people get hung up on the smallest aspects of the Gospel and thus are utterly turned away from it. Strange that these folks who wanted Jesus to be their king a couple days ago should turn on him so quickly when they find out his real motives and his real designs on their lives. They did figure out that it was necessary to consume Jesus; they just could not figure out how. So they rejected him altogether on the basis that his claim was utterly absurd. That is as near as I can figure.
I’m writing this rather late. I am on vacation and I had intended on writing earlier. I got caught up in a story I’m reading and a baseball game that was not quite as thrilling for the home team as last night’s game was. So it’s late, but I hear what Jesus is saying. What comes through loud and clear is that Jesus is offering eternal life to those who want it. What is necessary is a level of faith in him so deep that it can only be described in terms of eating his flesh. What is described by Jesus here is, to an extent, the forsaking of those confidences we place in the bread of this world. What is heard by those he spoke with that day is something like, “How will everyone eat his flesh? Eight months wages wouldn’t buy enough for everyone to have a single cell.” And yet the demand is no less demanded. Eternal life is found only by those who so identify with Christ through faith that it appears they have consumed his flesh, or been consumed by him. Either way, those who wish to live forever, according to Jesus, are left with no alternatives: It is either in Jesus or not at all.
What he goes on to teach us is that this way he is speaking of is terribly difficult and not at all strewn with marigold petals or lined with mammoth sunflowers. It is hard and at least most of the people did figure that much out and turned back. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw this too.
“The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and he alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road with increase our certainty. The way which the Son of God trod on earth, and the way which we too must tread as citizens of two worlds on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way. The narrow way is bound to be right” (The Cost of Discipleship¸ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 190-191).
May your 26th Day with Jesus be Full of Grace & Peace.
Soli Deo Gloria!