Lectionary Reflection: John 6: 56-69: Something Different

            What can you see in this passage?

            What is the key sentence in this passage? 

            No, we did living because of Jesus.  We did eating flesh and drinking blood – that very liturgical sentiment.  And we did the contrast with Manna in the wilderness all in previous weeks.  The key, the summary statement I am talking about is after verse 60.  Look close.

            No, it is not a message about disciples deserting him, but that may be worth considering later on, especially when coupled with the other wrong guess: “that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”  Wrong guess.  Rather, the key to this passage is key because it sums up and completes the story that began three weeks ago with the phrase, “I am the bread of life.” 

            Is it Peter’s confession then?  “You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  No, though again that is a thought worth pursuing. 

            Okay, I’ll tell you.  The summary statement, after weeks of the bread of life and Jesus giving his flesh and our need to eat it, and going over it again and again to the point that people are offended by the whole idea of this flesh eating and turn away from him – the key is the phrase, “the flesh counts for nothing.”  The whole phrase is actually, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.”  A pretty remarkable statement after all that business about eating his flesh and all.

            I imagine the reason most people might not notice this phrase is because most know nothing or next to nothing about the Holy Spirit – the one Jesus says is the life giver.  Same back then.  The words probably went right over the head of Jesus’ listeners, or as they say in cliché land, they went in one ear and out the other.  But now, let’s think about the flesh counts for nothing.

            When it comes to the Lord’s Supper (Communion, the Eucharist) you can transubstantiate all you want, and it means nothing.  You can pump up your faith to try and eat “worthily” as the scripture tells us, and it means nothing.  You can eat bread as strictly a memorial, eating in remembrance of him, and it really means nothing.  None of this matters.  It is all flesh stuff.  What matters, according to Jesus, is the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit alone makes the bread and wine real in any sense and every sense, and the Holy Spirit alone applies Jesus to our lives so that we may also live even though we die.  Without the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit, there is no life.  This is Jesus saying to some that even what they think they have will be taken away from them.

            So, who is this person of the Holy Spirit?  The answer to that is pages and pages of explanations.  What does the Holy Spirit talk about?  Jesus.  What grieves the Holy Spirit?  You can look that one up, along with more about the third person of the trinity than you can imagine.  But the point here is to tell us plainly that the flesh of Jesus alone, while it has its place even as our flesh and blood lives have their place, life itself is strictly in the province of the Holy Spirit.  The Father calls us to Jesus in whose sacrifice we are forgiven our sins.  But it is by faith in him that we receive and are filled with the Holy Spirit who only then makes Jesus real in us and real in the bread and wine for us.  The Holy Spirit is the confirmation of our faith.  It is the Holy Spirit that sustains us, heals us, leads and guides us, and keeps us safe (sealed) in Christ for eternal life.  Saved, but then left to our own devices, and we would all turn away from God… again.

            Of course, we see all of this only from this side of the crucifixion.  Back then, before Christ was crucified, things were a lot more muddy. 

            The disciples grumbled about flesh and blood and Jesus rhetorically asked if this offended them.  He knew it did.  But he also knew that they could not see the future.  They did not understand everything.  They did not know everything no matter how much they thought they did.  They could not even perceive everything.  He said, “what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?”  He was being prophetic and talking about what was to come, to be sure, but here he is mostly pointing out that the disciples could not see everything, and they should not be so quick to judge on limited knowledge and limited sensual input.

            Did you know the human race sees only 1% of the visible spectrum and hears only 1% of the audible spectrum?  Even in this flesh and blood universe there is far more we cannot see, hear, touch, taste or smell than we can.  Our senses are limited, how then can we sense the Holy Spirit or any spiritual thing, or know anything for certain about the future?  Jesus is telling the disciples that for the moment they have to accept his words on face value.  That might be a lot to ask a bunch of stubborn and self-determined human beings.  But he said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

            He knew there were some.  He knew.  He still knows, there are some today who if it does not fit into their 1% ability to see and hear, they won’t believe, or at least they will pick and choose what they are willing to believe based on… who knows what?  Yes, I am saying that there are people who believe that 99% of this flesh and blood universe is not real and doesn’t exist, simply because they cannot see it with their own eyes.  Sigh.

            But here is the truth of it:  The Father enables those who are saved to hear the words about Jesus – his crucifixion, resurrection, and the forgiveness in him and in his name – so they can believe.  God enables the belief so they may be filled with the Holy Spirit, given life eternal and sealed for the day of redemption.  The Father did not enable many of the disciples of Jesus at that point.  They turned away from him and stopped following him.  The Father did enable the twelve at least to the point where Peter was able to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 

            The Holy Spirit had not yet been given at that point.  The work of Christ was not complete.  But God did not leave them uninspired.  They knew their lives were in the hands of Jesus.  So are ours.  Do you know this or are you waiting to see before you believe?

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