John 6:56-69

This has been a week of scandalous and shocking information. This past Wednesday, the news broke that former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle agreed to a plea agreement on charges of child pornography and sex with minors. It has been stunning downfall from life as a celebrated company spokesperson to that of a sex offender. The arrest of a personal friend and director of his foundation in May first alerted the general public that something was amiss. Assumptions of guilt were confirmed this past Wednesday when details of his plea deal were released.

As bad as this news was, the next day seemed to bring worse.  Thursday, after the news of the hacking of the website Ashley Madison, a site dedicated to helping married adults commit adultery, word began to leak of some of the famous names holding accounts on the site.  Soon it was revealed that Josh Duggar of “19 Kids and Counting” fame–and the same Josh Duggar who was earlier this year revealed to have allegedly molested girls as a teenager–was a registered member of the site. Duggar confirmed the suspicion when he himself stated that “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife,” Duggar said in a statement Thursday.[1]

Via www.cccomaha.org

As shocking and scandalous as this news was to us, the story we read in the book of John was equally as shocking and scandalous to those who first heard the words of Jesus:

I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.[2]

Commentators are torn on what exactly was so offensive and scandalous to the hearers. Some suggest that Jesus was comparing himself to and anointing himself higher than Moses, the legendary leader in Jewish faith.[3] Jesus had just finished feeding the five thousand, was calling himself the bread of life, and was referencing bread coming from heaven just as manna had for the Israelites so long ago. Others suggest the apparent cannibalism was the obvious offense.  “to Jews it was unthinkable to drink animal blood,”[4] and here was Jesus, seemingly telling others to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Either way, those hearing what Jesus had to say didn’t take kindly to his words. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”[5] Jesus of course knowing these folks were grumbling and complaining, was less than sympathetic.  “Does this offend you?” he said.[6] Yet these words fail to get across how indifferent he was to their concerns. The word in the Greek is “skandalizei” which likely sounds familiar, as it is from which we get the English word “scandalize.”[7] I imagine Jesus saying these words with a sharp and biting tone, challenging the disciples in their commitment to and willingness to follow him.

Now please note that the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking are not simply the twelve we so commonly assume.  In fact, this is the first time in John’s gospel that Jesus’ closest disciples are identified as “the twelve.”[8] The story seems to indicate that there was a larger group following Jesus who could not stomach his demanding teachings as many turned back and no longer followed him. Looking around and seeing that many had left, Jesus asked the twelve, “do you wish to leave also?” Peter stepped up and answered the question with a simple yet profound answer. “To whom shall we go, you have the words of life eternal. We believe, we trust that you are the Holy One of God.”

Via onethingalone.com

This was a momentous occasion in the life of these twelve men, their decision “not to turn away but to walk forward with Christ drew them together as a community of faith. It is not any particular creed, mission statement, style of worship, or program that united them as the body of Christ. It was their professed willingness to follow Jesus Christ that rendered them a community of faith.”[9] The real challenge then isn’t confessing Jesus, it’s continuing to follow him.

Now of course we all wonder, what was Jesus asking of them, what was he demanding of them? What was this teaching that was so hard to accept? “Eating the bread and drinking the wine are metaphors for taking into one’s body, mind, and soul the climax of the incarnation in the death of Jesus.”[10] Or as another commentator noted, “The more we realize that faith calls us to consume the body and blood of Christ, to embrace his death and resurrection, and to emulate his manner of living and dying for others, the more difficult the journey of faith becomes.”[11] Yes, following Jesus is hard, difficult, even scandalous at times.

We forget sometimes how scandalous a person Jesus was in his own time. While we have grown familiar with the stories, we must try to reimagine the shock and surprise those first encountering Jesus would have felt when they saw him do so many unexpected things and say so many offensive words. In the book of John, even just to this point Jesus has already ransacked the temple in chapter two, in chapter four Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman, and worst of all Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath in chapter five. Now, here at the end of chapter six, Jesus is asking people to eat his flesh. Yet, as scandalous as these actions were in his time, it’s hard for us to fully comprehend how much Jesus upset people’s sensibilities.

Imagine Joel Osteen leaving his church offices on a Monday morning then shoving his way into the Wells Fargo building in Houston, flipping over desks, throwing computers across the room, and tossing piles of cash out the window.  Imagine Donald Trump, after all he’s said about immigration reform, sharing a cup of water with an undocumented immigrant in the Arizona desert. Imagine Bill O’Reilly declaring his approval of the divisive protests in Ferguson, Missouri, stating that the actions of the protestors are appropriate in their effort to reveal an unjust system. We would be shocked, we would be offended, and we would be scandalized — just as the people were when Jesus did those very things.

In 1994, David McCracken wrote the book, The Scandal of the Gospels: Jesus, Story, and Offense. McCraken makes the point that throughout the gospels, people are either offended by Jesus or his followers refuse to be offended, thereby showing their faith.[12] Throughout the gospels, Jesus continually challenges conventional ways of thinking and Jesus refuses to fit into the worldly standards of respectability, especially through the use of parables.[13]  In the gospels, Jesus knows that his final destination is the cross, crucifixion at the hands of the Romans so he continually is demanding more of his followers in preparation for the inevitable.

Via amazon.com

This reminds me once again that the real challenge isn’t calling oneself a Christian, the real challenge is trying to faithfully follow the ways of Christ. To Jesus, confessing him to be the Christ was secondary in importance to trusting in him and being willing to follow him.  Saying the right thing isn’t as important as doing the right thing. It’s not about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk.  Anyone can say “I’m a Christian,” anyone can say a few certain words. Jesus isn’t asking us to recite a certain formula, Jesus is asking us to follow. And once we being to follow Jesus is continually asking us to take that next step of faith, acting in trust. Jesus is ever pushing us, prodding us, and provoking us.

So if we do not found ourselves shocked, surprised, or even scandalized by Jesus, if we never find ourselves faced with a moment of decision, to choose to follow Jesus or turn back, we may not be following Jesus as closely as we say we are.  In that same manner, if we as a church are never shocked or surprised by the words of Jesus, if we are never challenged to take a step of faith and make a decision to follow, perhaps we might wonder how truly we are listening to and hearing the words of Jesus?

I invite us to consider where in our personal lives Jesus might be seeking to challenge our assumptions. Where Jesus might be seeking to shock us into seeing things differently?  Where Jesus might be asking us to take that next step of faith and follow in trust? Where might Jesus seeking to scandalize us, pushing us to respond in faith?

Similarly, in our church, as a community of believers, the disciples of Christ in Henderson, Colorado I wonder where Jesus might be seeking to challenge our understandings of the way church should be? I wonder where Jesus might be trying to scandalize our church into re-examining the status quo?  I wonder where Jesus might be asking us as a church to take the next step in faith and follow him in trust?

Yes, the road Jesus is asking us to travel with him is not an easy one. And we already know where the road leads—the cross. Yet the beauty of the mystery is that each time we take a step in faith, each time we heed a call, each time we respond in trust we will find greater purpose and meaning than we had known before. We will find deeper connections and relationships than we thought possible. We will discover a richer and fuller life than even imaginable. For those who want to truly find meaning, for those who want to find real purpose, for those who want find life abundantly Jesus has come so that we might have it, and have it more abundantly! Because in Jesus we find the words of life eternal. And where else would we want to go?

[1] Dana Ford, “Josh Duggar after Ashley Madison hack: ‘I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,’” CNN.com < http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/20/us/josh-duggar-ashley-madison/> (accessed August 21, 2015).

[2] John 6:53-56 NIV

[3] Susan Hylen, “Commentary on John 6:56-69,” WorkingPreacher.orgi  <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2603> (accessed August 21, 2015).

[4] Douglas R. A. Hare, “John 6:56-69: Exegetical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word, ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 3:383.

[5] John 6:60 NIV

[6] John 6:61b NIV

[7] “Scandalize,” Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=scandalize (accessed August 21, 2015).

[8] Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, Homiletical Perspective,” 3:383.

[9] Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, Homiletical Perspective,” 3:385.

[10] Douglas R. A. Hare, “John 6:56-69: Exegetical Perspective,”3:383.

[11] Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, Homiletical Perspective,” 3:383.

[12] Leland Ryken, review of The Scandal of the Gospels: Jesus, Story, and Offense. By David McCracken, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41, no. 3 (Sep 1998), 482-483, <http://web.b.ebscohost.com> (accessed August 21, 2015).

[13] Leland Ryken, review of The Scandal of the Gospels: Jesus, Story, and Offense. By David McCracken.

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