Español | I’ll never forget my very first meal in the village of Lúcumo. It had been quite the journey to the small farming community in the foothills of the Andes where I would spend the next couple of years serving as a missionary. The humble people there gave me a welcome like I had never experienced before. Almost immediately after arriving at one of the village’s adobe, thatched- roofed homes, I was taken around back and shown a large collection of guinea pigs.
Puedes escoger uno, my host told me as he pointed to the cages where the cute little rodents were kept. . “You can choose one.” ¿Escoger uno de qué?, I responded. “Choose one of what?” Para la cena, pues, he said. “For your dinner.”
Wait…. what? You want me to eat…what?!?
When the people of Israel first saw the manna that God had rained down from heaven to sustain them while they were wondering through the wilderness, they responded with a similar question. After seeing the “fine, flake-like thing,” as its described in the book of Exodus, the people of Israel said to one another, “what is it?” The word manna is actually a play on words in Hebrew that means just that, “what is it?”
That manna came after the people of Israel had been wandering around the hot, hot desert for 15 days. Needless to say, they were more than a little hungry. And yet, they responded to God’s gift of the thing they needed most with nothing but grumbling and doubt. “We’re not really supposed to eat that, are we? C’mon, Moses, we ate better than this when we were slaves in Egypt!”
In the section of Scripture that comes right before our Gospel lesson for today (Proper 15, Series B), we see the crowd at Capernaum respond to God’s gifts in a similar way. The Jews that had followed Jesus across the Sea of Galilee after seeing him feed the five thousand get all bent out of shape when Jesus tells them that the manna their fathers had eaten in the wilderness was really a foreshadowing of the true bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life.
Jesus tells them that He himself is this Bread of Life, who had been sent from heaven in order to give life to the world. The text reads:
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?” – John 6:41-43
“What do you mean you’re the “Bread of Life?” they scoffed. Yeah, we know where you came from, pal, and there’s nothing heavenly about the place. You’re flesh and blood just like the rest of us!” The Jews responded to God’s gracious gift [of Himself!!!] with nothing but grumbling and doubt.
This brings us to our text for today, where we see this conversation about Jesus and his claim to be the Bread of Life come to a head. Jesus – knowing that the crowds were scandalized by His claims and doubtful of His words – takes it even one step further, and says to them:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:53-54
“Okay, okay. This guy has obviously lost his marbles. How can this man give us his flesh to eat,” the Jews disputed amongst themselves. Once again, the Jews responded to God’s gracious offer of Himself [this time, of His very body and blood, – for the sake of their nourishment and life!] with nothing but disbelief and grumbling. And “after this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
There’s no denying it – Jesus’ words here are, indeed, “a hard saying”! Jesus says a lot of things that are difficult to accept. Taking Him at His word isn’t something that comes naturally to us. In fact, our natural inclination is to join the grumbling Israelites or the skeptical crowds at Capernaum. Our problem is that we too easily let our Old Adam tell us what it is that we really need: “Oh, I don’t really need to go to Church this Sunday, I think I need some quality time with my pillow a little more.” “I’d really like to get into the habit of spending time in God’s Word, but I just don’t know which part of my schedule to give up.”
We don’t think we need the sort of Jesus who give us his body to feed on or his blood to drink in order that we might live. This sort of Jesus is not at all appetizing to our Old Adam. This sort of Jesus scandalizes our “enlightened” sensibilities. “What do you mean you’re the living bread whose come down from heaven? What do you mean whoever feeds on your flesh and drinks your blood has eternal life?”
But, dear friends in Christ, it’s this sort of Jesus – the one who has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures – that we need the most!
For those of us who have received the gift of faith through the preaching of God’s Word or in the waters of Baptism, we know that it’s this sort of Jesus that we absolutely cannot live without! We know that the bread this Jesus gives us is His flesh; and that without this bread, we will surely die. We know that the words He has spoken to us are spirit and life.
And so we gladly receive Him where He has promised to give Himself to us – in His Word and Sacraments. We gladly listen and receive His words of eternal life in our family devotions, when we meet together for the Divine Service, and when our brothers and sisters in Christ encourage us with a verse from Scripture. We gladly receive His very body and blood in Holy Communion for our forgiveness, nourishment, and strength.
Sure, the world will continue to scoff at us for taking the words of our Lord so serious. Our old Adam will do his best to keep us only concerned with food that perishes. The devil will do all He can to keep us apart from Christ and His gifts, and to make us “turn our back[s] and no longer walk with him.”
But because it has been granted to us by our loving Father to come to Jesus, we gladly receive Him where He has promised to give Himself to us! And because of this we cannot help but echo the words of Simon Peter, who when Jesus asked him, “do you, too, wish to turn back?”, he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! We have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” Jesus, the Bread of Life gives to us what we need the most – Himself – and so, we gladly receive Him!