In today’s reading, Jesus says again that he is sent from the Father and that people must eat his flesh and drink his blood and they will live forever.
He heard his followers complain of this (admittedly weird-sounding) teaching and challenged them. He asks what will they think when they see him go up to where he came from. He tells them it is the Spirit that gives life and the body is of no value. I think this is maybe a clue that even though he has been talking of the physical (body and blood), the key is in the spirit. With this hard teaching, many followers left him and he asked the twelve apostles if they want to leave also.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.We believe in you. We know that you are the Holy One from God.”
We can choose to turn away when it gets hard to understand or hard to follow Jesus, or we can choose to follow Him, whose words give eternal life. We can choose to believe and live as he would live. What do you choose?
Today’s passage just carries on from the previous week–Jesus expounds on being the “living bread that came down from heaven” and talk more about the bread being his body and drinking his blood. One can only imagine who weird this must have sounded at the time. It sounds a bit weird now if you step outside of a knowledge of church. The people basically wondered if he wanted them to be cannibals.
This is a very challenging passage, and I’m not sure how to explain it fully–I know it is of a piece with recent passages that all deal with the Eucharist experience. It is a mystery and a communing with God and with one another. It is difficult to explain the love and faith and beauty of such an experience. There is nothing simplistic and tidy about it. Our Christian life is visceral and physical even as it is spiritual. God is with us. In him we live and move and have our being.
In today’s story, people begin to complain that Jesus said he was the “the bread that comes down from heaven” but they know him as a local boy, son of Joseph. Jesus tells them to stop complaining. He goes on to talk about being sent from the Father and that anyone who believes has eternal life. He compares the bread of life to the manna sent down for the Israelites in the Old Testament.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give my body so that the people in the world can have life.”
Those of us who participate in the weekly Eucharist are familiar with the imagery of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, but it can sound strange to people new to it, as it did to the people of that time. It can be a hard teaching–to understand and share the full and loving life Jesus calls us to, and the community we experience together in the Eucharist–a community reaching out to each other and up to a God who loves us and breaks bread with us.
Most people know the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, so I won’t repeat it here. (You can click the link above if you do want to read it.) Instead, I’ll just talk about what it shows us. First, it shows us how large the crowds were following Jesus. People were hungry for what he was offering–healings, teaching, hope, love, grace. Second, it shows that Jesus had concern for people’s physical well-being as well as their spiritual well-being. He wants people to be fed. Third, it shows that he saw the value of one child’s contribution–so little could mean so much. Fourth, the miracle shows his great generosity–not only did everyone get fed, they even had leftovers. As another passage said, he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This is a great story of abundance. Fifth, it shows that when he thought the people wanted to make him king, he left as he wasn’t seeking an earthly kingdom. He spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and about the evils of the domination system of his time, but he did not seek to be a king of that sort. Sixth, it is a precursor to the Last Supper and our Eucharist–breaking bread together in the presence of Christ.
The disciples Jesus sent out in the previous passage have returned to him. They eagerly tell him all they had done. But it is so busy with people that they don’t even have time to eat. Jesus tells them they will find a quiet place to rest. So they go on a boat to a place where they expect to be alone, but people follow them there. So many people come that a large crowd is waiting when Jesus gets off the boat. He takes pity on them so he stops to teach them.
The lectionary passage here skips ahead to another landing of the boat. They get out of the boat again and people recognize Jesus and people come in from all over the area bringing the sick to him. Wherever he goes people bring sick people to him and beg that they might just touch even the edge of his cloak. Anyone who touches it is healed.
This is very timely for me (even though I am doing it a couple weeks late). I happen to be sick this weekend and unfortunately I was too sick to serve on the healing prayer team today at church as planned. Our church has had healing services on some Wednesday nights for a while now, but we recently started a ministry of healing prayer during Sunday morning services. A couple of us stand to the sides during the Eucharist and people can come up to us after receiving communion for an individual healing prayer and anointing with oil. We discussed in our Adult Spiritual Formation commission that healing is not just about physical healing and that healing isn’t synonymous with curing. I’ve been reading a book called Healing in the Landscape of Prayer that has some great stories of people being cured after prayer, however, so it can happen. It’s lovely to be involved in a ministry that was so much a part of Jesus’ ministry in his lifetime.
I have spent some time in hospitals with my youngest son, who has a rare genetic disease, KBG Syndrome, which causes a few physical issues as well as some neurological ones. I know the great comfort I’ve had when visited by an Episcopal chaplain or our own priest while my son is sick. He may not have been cured, but we felt a healing effect and the love of Jesus.