The following is a reflection on John 6:51-58, the Gospel Lesson appointed for Proper 15B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
John’s Jesus uses incredibly incendiary language in chapter 6. So incendiary, in fact, that some people stopped following him because of it.
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
Whoa. Imagine hearing this for the first time. Imagine hearing this without any previous experience of the Eucharist. Imagine a young, perhaps educated, couple attending church for the first time in their lives—this Sunday as this passage is read!
Imagine hearing Jesus say these words.
We know that some in the crowd took such offense at Jesus that they stopped following him because he said these things—but we’ll get to that next week.
It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t soften or temper his language in the least bit. There’s not even a hint that he might be speaking poetically or metaphorically. He doesn’t just say it once, and then move on to other things.
Eat my flesh. Drink my blood. If you don’t you’ll die. If you do, you’ll live forever.
He drives this point home with clarity and repetition.
We hear it—as people who are “churched”—and I think we largely let the bombshells land around us without much reaction. I mean, of course Jesus is talking about the Eucharist…right? We hear these words against a lifetime of hearing: take, eat, this is my body…take drink, this is my blood of the new covenant.
For us, they have lost their offensiveness.
But, Jesus didn’t launch these rhetorical bombshells so that they’d fizzle with time.
No, I think it’s clear that Jesus was stirring the pot on purpose. He wanted to say things that challenged people, even to the point of having to decide that they’d have to leave.
One thing is clear here: Jesus isn’t about people-pleasing. He’s not about glad-handing, and smoothing out the wrinkles so that everyone can go away happy, and come again happy. He’s not about just saying and doing just about anything to pack the joint.
Last week, while on vacation I opened my iPhone to catch up on a little bit of the news, and I got smacked with, “Church Refuses to Marry Black Couple.” Now, I know this has been worked-over a few times now on The Internets, and I don’t mean to pile on the poor pastor who has publicly confessed his wrongs, and sought forgiveness—but I have to say that this story scared me.
Because it could have been me.
Now, no, I don’t think that I would have made the exact same mistake, over race, per se. But, what happened, is that the pastor was trying to please everyone. He’s said that he wanted a “win-win” situation.
He dreamed of resolving the situation with the people in the church who didn’t like black people too much would get the wedding out of their church, and the couple would get their storybook wedding, just at another location.
Apparently he was just trying to keep things quiet, and do things in a way that everyone would go home happy.
That is, of course, until CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and The Twitter all lighted up with the sad, sad story of a church whose decisions seemed to be made with bigotry and racism in mind.
But, I’ll say it again: What made my veins run with ice was, it could have been me. I so identify with the pastor who just wants everything to be fine. Who just wants to please everyone. Who wants everyone to be happy, and telling their friends to come to our happy-clappy little church.
I get it.
But…following Jesus means…sometimes you need to say the hard thing. Sometimes there is no win-win situation where everyone goes home happy.
Sometimes people get mad, and they leave, and they never come back. And, all because you said something like, “No, this is God’s Church, and all of God’s Children are welcome here.” Or, “No, their love is a gift of God, and it will be celebrated in God’s Church.”
Or, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood, for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
Sometimes the truth is easy. And good. And, maybe even fun! Something everyone can stand and cheer about.
But, there are those moments when the truth is hard. And, to some, offensive. And, speaking the truth might just mean that some won’t like you anymore, they’ll stop coming on Sundays. They’ll pull their pledge.
And maybe you’ll get nailed to a cross and left to die. Alone. Naked.
But, the truth also has this remarkable quality: it sets you free.
And, it brings you life in union with God.