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What Is the Eucharist?

5bb-institution-of-the-eucharist

 

Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

At St. Peter’s Anglican Church Tallahassee:
The penitential service of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13, and encompasses the forty days before Easter [March 31.]

Ash Wednesday Services with the Imposition of Ashes will be held at 12:10 and 7:00 pm on the 13th.  There will be no Wednesday night dinner or classes that evening.

 Dear Readers: 

Here is a Lenten meditation, in the form of a sermon, by the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty.

This sermon is a concise yet deeply theological reflection on the meaning of the Last Supper and the Eucharist.

Click here: “What Is the Eucharist?”  to listen to the sermon.

Or, click here:  

.

Coram Deo,

Margot

The text is Luke 22.14-23: [English Standard Version]

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.

15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 

16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 

17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 

18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 

19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 

22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”

23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

FrPetty2011

The Rev. Dr. Michael Petty
St. Peter’s Anglican Church [www.saint-peters.net]
Fr. Michael Petty is a native of West Virginia and grew up in Houston.  He was educated at Austin College (B.A.) and Vanderbilt University (M.Div., M.A., Ph.D.)
During his over twenty years of ordained ministry, he has served a large suburban congregation, a campus ministry at a medical school, and a hospital chaplaincy.
He has served as Associate Rector for Adult Education,  since St. Peter’s was founded in 2005.
In addition to pastoral ministry, Fr. Petty has served as an adjunct faculty member at the Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University), Nashotah House Theological Seminary and the Center for Biblical Studies in Tallahassee.
He is the author of  A Faith That Loves the Earth: The Ecological Theology of Karl Rahner, published by the University Press of America.
He is married to Sara Clausen and they have a son, Graham.
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Exploring the Gospel of John: 13

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

New words:  Click here for definitions:  prolepsisforeshadowingprolepsis

“Farewell . . . For Now” (I)

John 13:1-38

I. Setting an Example: 13:1-20

1.  The purpose of John 13-16 is to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ departure and the aftermath of this departure. As becomes clear, as the discourse moves along, Jesus’ departure is not a departure at all — but is a radicalization of his presence.

2.  It is clear that Jesus knows his destiny — that “his hour had come” (13:1; 12:23).  For Jesus, the crucifixion will mean not simply death but [will mean] a return to the Father.  His death on the cross consummates his obedience to the Father and his love for the world.   Jesus will now demonstrate proleptically the meaning of his death — the fact that “he loved them to the end” (13:1).

3.  The cause of Jesus’ departure is twofold:  Ultimately, its cause is the will of the Father and the concurring will of the Son.  Proximately, it is the devices of the devil (13:2), worked out in human instruments (Judas).  13:3 is the interpretive key to understanding the washing of the disciples’ feet:  This verse makes Jesus’ identity clear:  he is from God and is returning to God and God has placed all things into Jesus’ hands.  Jesus is, if fact, the Father’s personal action in human history:  The One who created water is going to [now] wash the disciples’ feet.

4.  The washing of the disciples’ feet is not simply an act of humility or an attempt of Jesus to identify with the “common man.”  Jesus removes all his clothing, except for a loincloth, which foreshadows the removal of his clothes, for the purpose of flogging and crucifixion.  (The Romans usually crucified their victims naked).  Foot washing was an act of hospitality in the ancient world:  it was a task given to slaves or to servants of the lowest standing.  It was the iconic form of menial service because it involved not only the washing of dirt from the feet of guests but also [involved] the washing of human and animal excrement, which found its way into the streets and sewers – [those two things being “pretty much” the same things.]

In this case, foot washing is an enacted parable of the Cross — a parable which Philippians 2:6-11 describes.

5.  Peter, who speaks for all the disciples, finds Jesus’ intentions incomprehensible.  For Peter (13:6) those in positions of superiority, like Jesus, do not wash feet:  “Lord” and “washing feet” do not belong in the same sentence.  Jesus makes it clear (13:7) that Peter cannot now understand the meaning of Jesus’ actions but such an understanding will come only “afterward.”  Peter’s refusal for Jesus to wash his feet (13:8) constitutes a clear rebuke to Jesus but Jesus responds:  “If I do not wash you, you have no share in me” (13:8).  “Share” here seems to mean “inheritance” or “participation.”  The refusal of the foot washing means a refusal of Jesus himself.  Accepting the foot washing is acceptance of the reversal of values it implies and such a reversal is necessary, in order to understand and accept Jesus’ death and its consequences.  Accepting this reversal is also necessary, in order to carry on Jesus’ mission in the world.

6.  In 13:12-14, Jesus provides an interpretation of his own acts:  Jesus underlines the incongruity between his status as Lord and his action of foot washing — that the Lord should engage in menial service.  Jesus says that this same pattern of action is to be the hallmark of the Church.  He calls upon the disciples to serve one another — reminding them that any relinquishment of status that they may have to make pales, in comparison, to the relinquishment of status that Jesus makes.

7.  13:15-17 makes it clear that Jesus has not merely commanded the washing of feet but [has commanded] also the imitation of the pattern that he himself has set (13:15).  The pattern of service that Jesus has set presupposes a radical inversion of values — an inversion that the disciples will have to accept and practice.  What Jesus has in mind is not simply the one act of foot washing but an entire set of practices which reflect his own pattern:  “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (13:17).   [Of course, Jesus has to qualify what he says, in order to account for Judas.]   In 13:18, Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9, to make the point that the betrayal of a close friend (one with whom one has broken bread) is a great cruelty.  One of his own, not the Sanhedrin, will betray Jesus.

8.  13:20 looks forward to the disciples’ mission, which is, of course, what the discourse about foot washing has been all about.  Just as Jesus has been sent from the Father and to receive him is to receive the Father, since “I and the Father are one” (10:30), so to receive the disciples is to receive Jesus himself and the Father.  This emphasizes the fact that the disciples (and the community gathered around them) are not simply independent agents but, are, rather, themselves an extension of Jesus’ mission.

II. Betrayal, Commandment and Denial: 13:21-38

1.  13:21-30:  The theme of Jesus’ sovereignty continues in this section:  he knows that an intimate is going to betray him and this fact further prevents people from seeing Jesus as a victim — an innocent man which an evil world has overtaken.  Significantly, the foreknowledge of betrayal does not render it easy to accept, as 13:21 makes clear.  Here, the text considers seriously the matter of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity.  All through the next several chapters, Jesus is simultaneously inside and outside the developing narrative -– he is both the one who has written the narrative and [he is also] one of the characters in the drama.  Just as the crucifixion of Jesus is not simply about the fate of an individual, so Judas’ decision to betray Jesus is not simply about an individual decision but is something larger: “Satan entered into him” (13:27; cf. 13:2).  Jesus’ death is not simply a function of the Sanhedrin’s desire to retain power or of Pilate’s desire to maintain Roman rule.  Notice that Jesus knows what Judas is about to do and does not attempt to dissuade him from doing it (13:27).  It is appropriate that Judas goes out into the night (13:30), to carry out his decision.

2.  13:31-38:  This section is the beginning of what we know as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” because, in it, Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure.  The striking of the first note is the most important one:  Jesus’ crucifixion will not be a humiliation or a defeat but [will be] a glorification.  Emphasizing the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son, the Father will glorify the Son in his death and the Son will also glorify the Father.  The reputation and honor of God and that of the Son are finally inseparable.  The “new commandment” (13:34) is not actually “new” but is a re-phrasing of Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus presents this as his final wish for the Church.  The type of love that Jesus will demonstrate in his death will be the hallmark of Christian behavior.  Observers will recognize the community of Jesus by the quality of its life — as a continuous corporate image of Jesus.  Jesus emphasizes twice (13:33, 36) that his disciples cannot follow him.  This is because of the unique work he has to do and the unique destination he has:  he is going to the cross and to the Father and only after this has happened will it be possible to follow him:  “but you will follow afterward” (13:36).

Questions for Reflection

(1)  The washing of the disciples’ feet is an enacted parable of love, which is at the center of John’s understanding of God, Christ, and the Church.  Unfortunately, the Church has, in many ways, surrendered this understanding of love, in order to embrace a modern, individualistic, and therapeutic one — an understanding in which “love” means the non-judgmental acceptance of other people.  How can we recover the meaning of “love,” which Jesus demonstrates in this scene and which he enacted on the Cross?  Note Philippians 1:27-2:11.

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 11

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

New word:  Click here for definitions:  prolepsisforeshadowingprolepsis

The Raising of Lazarus

John 11:1-57

(1) The raising of Lazarus is the seventh and final sign, which Jesus performs in this Gospel.

It is helpful to take note of the other six:

(1st)       Water transformed into wine (2:1-11);

(2nd)     The healing of the official’s son (4:46-54);

(3rd)      The healing of the paralyzed man (5:1-18);

(4th)      The healing of the man born blind (9:1-41);

(5th)      The feeding of the five thousand (6:1-15) and

(6th)      Walking on water (6:16-21).

The raising of Lazarus is the culminating sign. It is significant that there are seven signs.  We can divide the raising of Lazarus into six scenes:

(2)  Scene I:  11:1-6:  This scene sets the stage for the action that follows. 11:2 points forward to 12:1-8, where Mary anoints Jesus with perfume and washes his feet.  This action clearly indicates that the focus of this episode is not so much the death of Lazarus but that of Jesus.  In 12:1-8 Mary prepares Jesus proleptically for burial.   Jesus does not immediately respond to the plea of Mary and Martha for help but waits for two days before departing for Bethany (11:6).  The reason for this, as we have seen before, is that Jesus follows a timetable that God – not human need – dictates.  Jesus’ remark, “this illness does not lead to death” (11:4) probably does not mean that Lazarus will not die but that death will not be the final outcome of what appears to be a tragedy.  Once again, Jesus is here more focused on his own death than on the death of Lazarus.  The raising of Lazarus is essentially an enacted parable about Jesus’ crucifixion and death, which also “does not lead to death.”   Lazarus’ death will be an occasion for the glorification of the Son of God and will also be the catalyst for his death (note 11:45-53).

(3) Scene II:  11:7-16:  In 10:31, there is an attempt to stone Jesus for blasphemy, followed, in 10:39, by an attempt to arrest him (presumably for the purpose of being put on trial).  Given this, it is understandable that the disciples do not receive, with enthusiasm, Jesus’ decision to return to Judea.  (11:8).  Jesus attempts to turn their attention from the peril of death to what he considers to be a greater peril, that of stumbling (11:9, 10).  “To stumble” is to leave off obedience in the face of difficulty, something that Jesus considers worse than mere death.  Jesus says that Lazarus has “fallen asleep” (11:11), a Jewish euphemism for “died.”  As I Corinthians 7:39; 11:30; 15:6; 18:20, 51 indicate, “falling asleep” also became an early Christian expression for “death.”   The emphasis falls upon the temporary state of death as something that will be overcome.  The narrator explains Jesus’ real meaning and the disciples’ failure to grasp it, in 11:13.  Thomas (11:16) is correct, in thinking that the journey to see Lazarus is really about Jesus’ death.

(4) Scene III:  11:17-27:  It becomes clear that Lazarus is really dead, in that he has been in the tomb for four days (11:17) and Jews believed that the soul left the body after three days.  Jesus will not merely revive Lazarus but will resurrect him.  Martha’s greeting of Jesus clearly carries overtones of disappointment and complaint (11:21).  But even so, it implies belief in Jesus’ healing powers.  Martha has not rejected Jesus but expresses the view, common among Jews, that God hears the prayers of a righteous person (11:22).  Of course, Jesus does not really pray in this episode, a fact that has great theological significance for John.  In a real sense, Jesus has no need to pray, given his relationship with the Father.  This conversation, in the midst of grief and some disappointment, leads to a moment of epiphany:  “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). The “I am” formula is important (as it was in 8:58) but so is the idea that resurrection is not simply an event brought about by God (according to Jewish belief) but is actually a person – Jesus.  While Martha assents to this, it is not at all clear that she sees its implications or fully embraces it — for, when Jesus orders the stone to be removed from the tomb, in 11:39, Martha raises what, to her, seems to be a sensible objection.

(5) Scene IV: 11:28-37:  It is now Mary’s turn to greet Jesus.  We find the same mixture of disappointment and resentment (11:32) but a new twist is added:  “the Jews” who had come to help her mourn have followed her to Jesus (11:31).  In 11:33, a great change comes over Jesus.  There is disagreement over the nature of this change.  The verb used here is the same as that in Mark 14:33-34 (“greatly distressed and troubled”) and Matthew 26:37-38 (“sorrowful and troubled”).  Quite probably, the emotion being expressed here is that of anger and the object of the anger is most probably death.  On one hand, Jesus the Incarnate Word does not simply jump into action when informed of Lazarus’ illness.  On other hand, as a real human being, Jesus responds to death with real anger and sorrow (11:35).  The response of “the Jews” to Jesus here is divided, with some remarking on Jesus’ affection for Lazarus (11:36), while others offer the implicit criticism that he who restored the blind man’s sight may now be in over his head (11:37).

(6) Scene V: 11:38-44:  The Gospel writer emphasizes, once again,  Jesus’ anger at death, in 11:38 (the same verb is used here as in 11:33).  11:40 makes it clear that God will soon reveal his glory. But the glory is Jesus,’ as well, since he does not pray to God to restore Lazarus to life but commands this to happen.  The thanks he offers to God is not really necessary but is offered “on account of the people standing around” (11:42).  It now becomes clear that, what Jesus said in 5:25 (“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear him will live.”) is now coming to pass.  The episode of Lazarus is a proleptic demonstration of the resurrection.  The release of Lazarus from the burial wrappings emphasizes his freedom from the bondage of death.

(7) Scene VI: 11:45-53:  The reaction of “the Jews” is significant, with “many” believing in Jesus but “some” heading to Jerusalem, to inform the authorities.  The most significant consequence of the raising of Lazarus is the decision, by the authorities, to put Jesus to death (11:53).  Ciaphas prophesies (11:51) that Jesus will die “for the nation,” that is, for Israel.  While Jesus’ death has a universal dimension to it, we should understand also that he died on behalf of Israel, as well – this is an aspect that we cannot overlook.  Of course, the text makes clear here that what Ciaphas says is ironic:  Jesus, he says, will be handed over, to guarantee Israel’s continued existence, but he uses “for” in a way that he does not understand.

(8) Epilogue: 11:54-57:  The text makes clear that the raising of Lazarus sealed Jesus’ fate.  Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, to celebrate Passover, and the authorities are making ready to arrest him.  This will be his last Passover and, as John makes clear, the Passover will finally find its true fulfillment.

Questions for Reflection

(1) Why is it significant that Jesus’ last sign in this Gospel is the raising of Lazarus?

(2) John makes it clear that Jesus raises Lazarus, not because he is Jesus’ friend but in order to glorify God.  Why is this important to emphasize?

 (3) What is revealed about Jesus in this episode?

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 10

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Jesus: The Good Shepherd

John 10:1-42

10:1-21

(1)   This section clearly follows the episode of the man born blind, in John 9.  The audience is the same (9:18, 10:19), there is once again a division of opinion (9:16, 10:19), and there is a clear reference back to the healing of the blind man (10:21).  “The Jews” are leaders of Israel, who drive the man born blind out of the synagogue.  This action allows Jesus to introduce the traditional imagery of Israel’s leaders (kings, priests, prophets), which is the imagery of the “shepherd.”  Jesus sets up a contrast between false leadership and himself.

(2)   While the shepherd was a prominent symbol of leadership, beginning with Joshua (Numbers 12:27-33), it comes to full stature in David, the shepherd who became king (2 Samuel 5:2; 7:7-8).  After David, the shepherd becomes the ideal of the messianic king (Micah 5:2-4).  Ezekiel 34 draws a stark contrast drawn between Israel’s shepherds — who have not been feeding the sheep but have been feeding themselves – on the sheep (34:2-3).  God will replace such shepherds by the ultimate shepherd  — who is God himself:  “I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God” (34:14, 15).

(3)   10:1-6 is a mini-parable, which establishes two things:

  •  The legitimate access of the shepherd to the sheep.  Most Palestinian sheep herds were small and the shepherd kept the herd in a fenced or walled sheepfold at night.  The shepherd assumed that anyone entering the sheepfold, by means other than the gate, was a thief (10:1).
  • The intimate relationship between sheep and shepherd.  An average flock consisted of one hundred sheep and the shepherd gave a name to each sheep.  The shepherd moved the flock, by going before the flock, and by calling each sheep by name.  While not intelligent animals, sheep do not follow strangers or respond to their voices.  But they do respond to the voice of the shepherd (10:5).  10:6 points out that the meaning of this parable is not understood.  “The Jews” think of themselves as the shepherd and of Jesus as the intruder.

(4)   10:7-10 expands upon 10:1-2.  Instead of emphasizing that Jesus is the shepherd who comes through the gate, this section emphasizes that Jesus is the gate.  He embodies access to the sheepfold:  “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7).  In this way, Jesus fulfills the role of God, which Ezekiel 34:10 depicts, where God himself rescues his sheep from the devouring “shepherds.”  Just as in Ezekiel 34, this passage in John sets up a sharp contrast between the “shepherds” who “kill and destroy” (10:10) and the “real Shepherd,” who comes “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (10:10).

(5)   10:11-18 focuses on the identification that the reader has been anticipating:  that of Jesus’ identification with the shepherd (with Ezekiel 34 as the backdrop).  Jesus is the “good shepherd” (10:11) and here, the Greek word “kalos” (translated as “good”) really means “ideal” or “true.”  Jesus is the true shepherd of Israel because “he lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11).  Being a shepherd brought exposure to danger but, here, the dedication of the shepherd to the sheep is amazing and beyond expectation.  The emphasis falls on two important things:  that the shepherd’s death is voluntary (not merely inflicted or accidental) and that the shepherd’s death is on behalf of the sheep:  This is a radical contrast with the shepherds who feed on the sheep.  The solemn pronouncement “I am the good [true] shepherd” is spoken twice (10:11, 14) and, in each case, the warrant for this saying is the shepherd’s willingness to die for the sheep (10:11, 15).  Jesus’ death proceeds from two things, each of which is equally important:  his knowledge of the Father (10:15) and his intimate relationship with the sheep (10:14).

The pretend “shepherds” possess neither of these things. 10:16  “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” probably refers to Gentile believers.  The background for this is still Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24, where God gathers a scattered Israel into one “pasture,” with its ultimate shepherd.  10:16 makes the point that the scattered Israel includes Gentiles, as well.  The result of Jesus’ work will fulfill Ezekiel 34“So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16).  10:17-18 focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection as acts of sovereign freedom and forecloses any notion that Jesus is a victim.  Jesus’ death is a gift of himself (he is not simply killed) and his resurrection is accomplished by virtue of who he is (John 1:1), not given to him as a “reward” for having done well.  The accusation that Jesus is possessed (in 10:20) takes us back to 8:48, 52, while the argument that a demon possessed man could not restore sight takes us back to 9:31-33.

10:22-42

(1)  This section is another interrogation scene, in which Jesus is in conflict with “the Jews” (10:24).  The themes of 10:1-21 continue but some time has passed because we are told that, instead of being in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2), Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication (10:22).

(2)   10:22-30 is the first part of this section.  “The Jews” now want an explicit “yes” or “no” from Jesus, about whether he is the Messiah.  Jesus has not claimed to be the Messiah, in the presence of religious authorities although, from 1:41 onwards, the issue of “messiah-ship” has come up (note also 4:25-26).  Jesus’ response to the questioning is twofold:

  • First, he says that his works answer their question (5:36).
  • Second, he says that their lack of faith is due, ultimately, to the fact that “you are not part of my flock” (10:26).  As 6:44 has made clear, only the Father can draw a person to Jesus.  The lack of clarity, in the minds of the religious leaders, is not an indication that Jesus’ works lack clarity.  In contrast to the religious leaders, those who are part of Jesus’ flock enjoy an eternal security, held by both Jesus and the Father who, ultimately, while distinct, have one “hand” (10:28-29).  In the salvation they provide and in the eternal security they guarantee, Father and Son act as one.

(3)  In 10:31-39, the point of contention between Jesus and “the Jews” is sharply made clear.  In 10:33, Jesus is accused of blasphemy, in the sense that he has made himself equal to God or has identified God with himself. This was the implicit issue in 8:58-59.  The Christian confession that Father and Son have equal status was one of the main points of contention between the Church and the synagogue.  Jesus offers a counter-argument, which draws upon Psalm 82:6, in which God addresses a gathering, by telling them:  “You are gods.”  The identity of the group addressed need not detain us here, since the simple point is that, if this group can be so addressed, how can there possibly be any objection to Jesus, “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (10:36)? The word “consecrated,” of course, picks up on the Feast of Dedication (which marked the re-consecration of the Temple) and identifies Jesus as its fulfillment.  Jesus’ works make it clear that his claim is not blasphemy because his claim is true; his works make it clear that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10:38).

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A Christmastide Meditation by a Guest Blogger

Dear Friends,

My daughter and I have been thinking about and discussing a common theme, during Advent and Christmastide.  I offer this meditation for your reflection and contemplation:

Holy Time: The Joy of the Incarnation and the Pieta

I cannot express this theme any better than she as written.

Coram Deo,

Margot

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 8

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles (IV)

John 8:12-38

1.  We momentarily pass over John 7:53-8:11, an account of a women accused of adultery.  Many translations of this section have it bracketed, indicating that not all manuscripts of John’s Gospel contain it.  Its inclusion here is odd because it disrupts the flow of the narrative, which continues directly from 7:14-44; neither the scene nor the audience has changed.

2.  8:12-20:

7:37-38 states the first part of Jesus’ “Tabernacle claim:”  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  As we have seen, Jesus claims to fulfill the dimension of Tabernacles associated with abundant rain and, hence, sustained life.

He now makes the second part of his “Tabernacle claim,” recalling that a second dimension of the feast was the large lamp stands in the Temple’s court of the women, that were lit at night, during the festival.  The theme of light may also be related to questions raised earlier about whether the Messiah comes from Galilee (7:41, 52), in that Isaiah 9:1-2 does associate the Messiah with Galilee and announces “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shined.”  Echoing 5:30-47, this statement immediately raises questions about the validity of Jesus’ testimony:  What are the authorities or who are the witnesses, which vindicate this claim (7:13)?  Jesus’ response here is sharper than it was in 5:30-47.  Jesus says that his testimony is unique because of his identity; he is from God and is returning to God.  This means that his testimony is self-validating because it is not simply of human origin but, in fact, has its origin in God.  The Pharisees, Jesus says, judge “according to the flesh,” which seems to mean not that they judge according to the senses but that they judge from a perspective hostile to God.  The “flesh” in this sense is not the realm of the physical but the realm of resistance and hostility to God.

8:15-16 is a bit puzzling:  “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”  Jesus does not mean that he never judges.  He means that, while the Pharisees judge on the basis of hostility to God, he does not judge in this way, in that he judges with God; Jesus’ judgment and God’s judgment are not two separate things but take place conjointly.

In 8:17, we return to the theme of the Law.  In 5:31-37, Jesus accommodated himself to the Law and he does the same here.  He notes that the Law requires two human witnesses to establish something (Deuteronomy 19:15) but says that he has supplied two divine witnesses – himself and the Father.  The meaning of this claim is completely misunderstood and the Pharisees want to know the location of Jesus’ (biological) Father.  This prompts Jesus to make a radical accusation: “You know neither me nor my Father.  If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (8:19).  This goes back to the accusation made in 7:28.  The real problem, Jesus says, is not merely that they dislike him or dispute his claims but that they do not know the God of Israel — because if they did, they would know him, as well.

3.  8:21-30:

This section begins with another instance of misunderstanding.  As we discover later in 14:28, “going away” refers to Jesus’ return to the Father via crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.  The Pharisees take this as reference to suicide (8:22).  This is clearly not what Jesus means.  The phrase “you will die in your sin” (8:21) is important.  Here, “sin” is in the singular because of the reference to the sin of unbelief, which is the fundamental separation between a human being and God.  As 3:3-16 has already made clear, belief in Jesus and reception of his testimony is what enables a person to be born from above and to enter eternal life.  The lack of understanding only underlines the real difference between Jesus and the Pharisees:  “You are from below; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world” (8:23).  There are, finally, only two orientations.  One can either be “of this world,”  by which Jesus means  “hostile to God”  or “from above,”  by which he means “having been reborn and reconciled to God.”  Being hostile to God is perfectly compatible with “being religious,” as the case of the Pharisees shows – they are not atheists or agnostics.  The question in 8:25 (“Who are you?”) emphasizes the lack of comprehension.  Jesus reaffirms his central contention in 8:26 that, in God’s dispute with the world, he is God’s true witness against the world; his testimony about God is a testimony against the world.

How will Jesus’ status as truthful witness be confirmed?  It will be confirmed precisely at the moment when the world believes that it has been denied – at the crucifixion when “you have lifted up the Son of Man” (8:28).  Just as “going away” is a code phrase for “returning to the Father,”  so  “lifting up”  is a code phrase for crucifixion.  Jesus’ death will be his vindication, in that it reveals that “I do nothing on my own authority but speak just as the Father has taught me” (8:28).   For John, the cross reveals that what happens in Jesus is finally accomplished by God.

4.  8:31-38:

8:30 notes that “many believed in him” but we soon discover that this belief is either false or temporary.  8:31 shows that the standard of discipleship of continuing allegiance to Jesus, which is the meaning of “abiding” in his word.  This allegiance alone grants the truth, which is freeing, where “freedom” is understood as freedom from the power of sin and death.  So long as one remains in sin, truth becomes impossibility.  This leads to yet another misunderstanding:  “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (8:33).  This statement indicates at least two things:  First, they have misunderstood what Jesus has said about freedom.  Jesus has spoken of freedom from sin and they seem to be thinking of political freedom.  Second, since they are currently living under the rule of Rome, their statement is untrue in a significant way.  The point is that they do not think that they need to be freed from anything.  Jesus responds by pointing to the distinction between the slave and the son in a household, the former having no permanent place, while the latter does.  Jesus may have in mind Genesis 16:15 and 21:9-21, where the one to inherit the promise to Abraham’s son (Isaac) — not the son born to his slave Hagar (Ishmael).  Paul draws on this distinction, in Galatians 4:21-31.  Like Paul, Jesus seems to be making the point that Abraham’s true descendants are those who follow Jesus, not those who merely claim descent from him.

Questions for Reflection:

(1)  John 7-8 provides an opportunity to reflect on the person of Jesus.  Here, Jesus says that his witness and his judgment are the same as the Father’s — making them unique.  John presents this as the only real way to correctly understand the person of Jesus.  What are some of the obstacles to a true perception of Jesus?

(2)  Jesus identifies belief and discipleship as abiding in his word (8:31).  According to John 15:1-8, what does this abiding mean? What are some ways in which it could be nurtured?

(3)  In 8:32, Jesus promises that following him leads to freedom. What does this freedom mean?  What Jesus tells the Pharisees is very similar to what Paul says in Romans 6:15-19. In what ways is Christian freedom paradoxical?

Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles (V)

John 8:39-59

(1) 8:39-47: 

This part of the conversation follows from 8:31-38, in which “the Jews” claim Abraham as their father (8:33) and Jesus responds with this question:  Why it is that they do not act like Abraham, who welcomed God’s revelation?  Jesus then draws a sharp contrast:  “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father” (8:38).  The clear implication is that their father is neither God nor Abraham.  In 8:39-40, Jesus sharpens his criticism.  If they were, in fact, Abraham’s children, they would be following his pattern.  Jesus may be thinking of Genesis 18:1-9, where Abraham receives the messengers with hospitality.  In contrast to this, “the Jews” are seeking to kill God’s messenger, in the person of Jesus.   Biological descent from Abraham is not sufficient to establish one in a covenant relationship with God.  In 8:41, Jesus begins to identify who their real “father” is.  It is clear now that God is not their father (8:19) — nor is Abraham.  So, who is their father?  They take Jesus’ statement, “You are doing what your father did” (8:41) to imply that he considers them idolaters.  Remember that “sexual immorality” is used in the Old Testament (Hosea 1:2; 2:4-5) as a metaphor for idolatry.  They claim to have only one father, who is God, as so to be loyal to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4).

What Jesus says next is his strongest claim yet:  “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here” (8:42).  Their claim to love God is self-evidently false, since God (“I am”) is before them and they clearly do not love him.  The conflict between Jesus and “the Jews” is a conflict based on origins;  he is “from above” and they are “from below” (8:23).  While Jesus is of his Father, they are also of theirs:  “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (8:44).  Jesus’ indictment here parallels indictments of Israel made in the Old Testament:  that Israel does not know God (Isaiah 48:8), is a slave of sin (Isaiah 50:1) and does not listen to God or his witnesses (Isaiah 42:18, 20).  Isaiah tells Israel that her ancestor was a transgressor (Isaiah 43:27), that from her birth she was a rebel (Isaiah 48:8) and that she has been involved in idolatry (Isaiah 44:9).  It would be very wrong indeed to see what Jesus says here as somehow anti-Semitic, since this is clearly an intra-Jewish conflict.

The claim that “you are of your father the devil” (8:44) expresses the reverse side of the claim, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (8:19).   To reject the testimony or witness of Jesus is to reject God himself, since the Son is the Father’s witness to himself.   The witness of Jesus casts a bright light on the human situation — so that all is seen for what it really it is and it becomes clear that, once again, there is a situation in which “you who are called by the name of Israel . . . who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right”  (Isaiah 48:1).

(2)  8:48-59:

“The Jews” respond to Jesus’ denunciation with one of their own.  They denounce him as a Samaritan (a person who is not really part of the covenant people) and demon-possessed (a person in the grip of evil and a stranger to the truth).  This only confirms their alienation from God.  This dishonor done to Jesus is not merely a personal affront but is, finally, an affront to God:  “Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge” (8:50).   Jesus’ concern for his honor is not egocentric or rooted in vanity; God seeks Jesus’ glory because of his unique status.  One cannot dishonor Jesus and still claim to serve the God of Israel.  Jesus offers a solemn declaration:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (8:51).  The death being referred to here seems to by physical death.  This is a parallel to the solemn saying in 5:24:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  Jesus has the authority to grant eternal life and to both exercise God’s judgment and to exempt people from it.  In response to the questions, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?  Who do you make yourself out to be?”  Jesus responds that the Father establishes his identity.   Jesus concludes, by claiming that Abraham is a witness to himself.  The statement that “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day” (8:56) reflects the Jewish belief that Abraham was allowed to see the end times and, hence, the consummation of God’s work.  This view is also implied in Hebrews 11:8-16, where figures such as Abraham are said to have not “received the things promised, but having seen them greeted them from afar . . . ” (Hebrews 11:13).

The entire narrative of 7-8 now comes to its culmination. Jesus is asked a question in 8:57, which provides him with the opportunity to make a statement of his identity:  “You are not yet fifty years old and have you seen Abraham?”   In response, Jesus makes another solemn pronouncement:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). While this is a clear echo of Exodus 3:14, it also has a parallel in Isaiah 43:10-11:  “ ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.  I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.’ ”

Questions for Reflection

(1)  Reading John 7-8 takes care and attention, not only because the material is so dense, but also because it is so important.  One important theme in these two chapters is the relationship of Jewish people to Jesus the Messiah of Israel.  Unfortunately, Jews and Christians have a long history of poisoned relationships and many Christians have done their faith little credit.  Jesus clearly insists that Abraham was able to see ahead to him and rejoiced at the sight (8:56), meaning, of course, that he did not appear simply as the negation of Judaism.  How can we today help Jews to see that the Christian faith is not simply a Christian invention but is rooted in the Old Testament?

(2)  John 7-8 is primarily concerned with Christology, our understanding of who Jesus is.  How do the following passages express who Jesus is?

“But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true…I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” (7:28, 29).

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart, will flow rivers of living water.’  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (7:39)

“ . . . for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me . . . I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” (8:16, 17)

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad.” (8:58)

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Filed under Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John

Exploring the Gospel of John: 6

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Breaking Bread With Jesus

John 6:1-15

1. The scene now switches back to Galilee, from Jerusalem (which is the focus from 2:13-3:36 and 5: 1-47).  A large crowd is following Jesus “because they saw the signs he was doing among the sick” (6:2).  The only healing sign in Galilee mentioned, thus far, is the one in 4:46-54, the healing of an official’s son (designated as Jesus’ second sign, in 4:54).

The mention that the crowd is following because of signs hints at a lack of real faith (a hint confirmed later in 6:15).  In 2:24-25, however, we have already seen that “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them [those who believed in him because of the signs he was doing], because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”  It is clear that seeing signs does not necessarily translate into actual faith.

2. The mention of going up on “the mountain” (6:3) is important, in indicating the symbolic setting for what is to happen.  Going up to “the mountain” is precisely what Moses does in Exodus 19:3, to receive a revelation from God.  The mountain introduces the theme of revelation and the giving of the manna, which takes place in Exodus 16.  The discourse, which extends from 6:22-71, will take up these themes.  Here, the passage reveals Jesus to be the true bread of life, who fulfills and surpasses the manna given in the wilderness.  The temporal note “Now the Passover . . .was at hand” (6:4) brings this into sharper focus.

3. As is typical of John, the passage emphasizes the sovereignty of Jesus:

First, instead of waiting for the crowd to get hungry and then providing food, Jesus raises the issue even before it arrives.  Here, he plays the host and does not simply respond to a need (see Mark 8, for example).

Second, while Jesus asks Philip about food, 6:6 makes it clear that Jesus knows already what he is going to do.  It becomes clear that Philip is responding to Jesus simply on a human plane; for him, what Jesus asks is simply impossible, in that more than six months’ wages of an average person would make only a dent in solving the problem.  We are immediately reminded of Nicodemus’ protest that being born from above/again is impossible, because it means returning to the womb.

4. Likewise, Andrew responds on the merely human level; he has located some food  — but there is the dispiriting realization that “what are they among so many?” (6:9).  The mention of the two barley loaves may be a reference to 2 Kings 4:38-44, where Elisha feeds one hundred men with twenty barley loaves and some grain.

Andrew’s objection echoes that of Elisha’s servant: “How can I set this before a hundred men?”   The food that Jesus has available is more scarce than what Elisha had and the number of people he must feed is far greater.  Just as we will learn that Jesus is greater than Moses, we now learn that Jesus is greater than Elisha.  The point of these comparisons is not merely to show that Jesus is better than what [who] preceded him but to emphasize the surpassing work of God, which is now taking place — the same theme contained in within the story of the wedding in Cana (2:1-12).

5.  Jesus’ actions with the bread are significant:  (1) Jesus “took the loaves” (2) gave thanks (the Greek verb is eucharisteo) and (3) “distributed them.”  These actions replicate almost exactly Jesus’ actions in the Upper Room which, according to Luke 22:17 were “he took bread, and when he had given thanks [a form of eucharisteo], he broke it and gave it to them.” 

It seems almost certain that Jesus’ actions here are seen as “eucharistic” in nature and, although John offers no actual account of the Last Supper, he is certainly aware of it.   If we put all the pieces of the puzzle together, it seems that John portrays this action as a kind of new Passover — there is the “Passover, the feast of the Jews” (6:4) and there is Jesus’ new Passover.   John further emphasizes Jesus’ role in this feeding because, unlike Mark 8, it is Jesus who distributes the food that he has blessed — not the disciples (6:11).  This emphasizes the point that what is given comes from Jesus and further parallels the accounts of the Last Supper, where the bread and cup are given to the disciples — by Jesus himself.

6.  Paralleling the wedding at Cana episode, the emphasis falls on the theme of abundance.  Even after five thousand men (compare that to Elisha’s one hundred!) have “eaten their fill” (6:12), there is still plenty left over.  The number of baskets filled with leftovers is significant — twelve.

Later on in this chapter (6:67, 70, 71) Jesus will emphasize the fact that there are twelve disciples.  This is not just an unimportant symbolic detail but is a reminder that Jesus’ mission is not just about bringing individuals to the Truth or performing signs to attract a following.  Jesus understands himself to be about the work of reconstituting Israel and this is important because it means that, while there will be a Church of Gentiles, it cannot merely be a Gentile Church, a community which has no connection to Israel.

7.  The response of the crowd now justifies the suspicions hinted at earlier.  It sees in Jesus “the Prophet who is to come” (6:14), a possible reference to Deuteronomy 18:15.  If this is so, the crowd may be thinking of Jesus as a kind of prophet-king and this is the light in which some Jewish traditions viewed Moses.  But it clearly misunderstands Jesus’ mission and identity.  1.49 refers to Jesus as a “king” but it is clear that the crowd is thinking of installing Jesus as king through insurrection — as if his kingship depended upon popular support and was simply an alternative to the rule of Herod Antipas.  This is not to say that Jesus’ kingship is a merely “spiritual” reality but it is to say that “the consent of the governed”  does not determine his kingship – nor is it simply an alternative to other rules.

John 6:16-21

1.  We need to read this episode along with the preceding one, in order to make proper sense.  This is to say that it is an extension of the previous episode — not an independent one. The whole scene is somewhat enigmatic.  The passage does not tell us why the disciples departed without Jesus nor how they expected Jesus to come to them, while they were on the Sea of Galilee.  And while the sea is rough, there is no indication that the disciples are in danger or that they need to be rescued  (as is suggested in a parallel account, in Matthew 14:24).

2. Looking beyond all this, it is clear that this episode has a very definite function, one which is made clear, in Jesus’ response to the disciples in 6:20 which, translated literally, reads “I am; do not be afraid.”  The “I am” is, of course, the way in which God identifies himself in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 25; 45:18; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12).  The image of sovereignty over nature strengthens the connection between Jesus and God’s self-identification.

3. We now know why the effort to make Jesus king was wrong and what the feeding of the five thousand reveals:  Jesus acts as one who has the power of God at his disposal.  In the case of Moses and Elisha, God assists his servants with signs of divine power while, in the case of Jesus, there is no assistance at all, since in him, the Father (the sovereign Creator) is acting personally.

John 6:22-59

1. 6:22-24 provides a transition from the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus’ walk upon the Sea of Galilee to the next stage of the action.  This section recalls the feeding and emphasizes its Eucharistic dimension, by reminding us that the feeding took place “after the Lord had given thanks” (6:23) — making use of the Greek verb eucharisto once again.  This section also emphasizes that only one boat was available to Jesus and his disciples and that it is known that Jesus did not get into the boat with them — underlining the mysterious nature of how Jesus got to the other side.

2. 6:25-29:  The crowd goes in search of Jesus for the wrong reason.  6:25 signals this, when the crowd strangely asks Jesus when he came to Capernaum — not how.  This alerts us to the fact that there is a significant gap between Jesus and the crowd.  Jesus himself makes this clear, when he identifies the reason why the crowd has followed him — it seeks him because he provided food — not because it has understood the sign (note the omission of the role of the fish in the feeding).

Jesus attempts to move this exchange to another plane, with the paradoxical admonition  “Do not labor for the food that perishes [the bread of the sign] but for the food that endures to eternal life [Jesus himself] which the Son of Man will give to you” (6:27).

[Jesus is not telling them to work for anything at all because the real food is not something other than Jesus himself and this food only comes as a gift from God.]  The crowd does not understand this because it asks, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (6:28).  “Doing the works of God” was a way of speaking about being faithful to Torah.  The question being asked, according to Jesus, is:  What does one need to do, in order to be faithful to God?  Astoundingly, Jesus makes it clear, in 6:29, that having faith in him is what being faithful to God is all about.  This is to say that Jesus understands that faith in himself is being faithful to Torah.

3.  6:30-40:  The questions the crowd asks, in 6:30, at first sounds strange.  We have to remember back to 6:14, where the crowd identifies Jesus as the new Moses (“the Prophet”).  Seen in this light, the question seems to be that of what sign Jesus has performed, to show that he is greater than Moses.  Exodus understands that signs and wonders have vindicated Moses’ office.  The crowd, naturally, sees one of the greatest of these signs as the manna (literally in Hebrew “what is it?”).  The question here seems to be “Can you outdo the giving of manna?”

This is exactly the question that Jesus wants the followers to ask.   Jews generally saw manna, not simply as the “bread” supplied by God in the wilderness, but also as Torah.  By identifying himself as “manna,” Jesus will emphasize that he both fulfills and surpasses Torah.

On the way to this point, Jesus makes a clarification:  it was not Moses that gave the manna but God.  In the Moses scenario, the manna comes to Israel through Moses’ intercession.  In Jesus’ scenario, God is the giver and Jesus himself is the gift.  Jesus makes it clear that he is not simply talking about performing a sign but about God [himself] directly giving a gift.  It becomes clear that manna here is not referring to a thing:  “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33).

The crowd has not yet caught up to Jesus (no surprise here!) and seems to think that what Jesus is offering is simply an endless supply of manna.  (We remember that the manna stopped when Israel crossed into the Promised Land).  Jesus now makes an unambiguous declaration, which is the center of this whole chapter:  “I AM the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (6:35).

According to Deuteronomy 8:3, God gave the manna as an object lesson: it made clear that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”   Here, the manna is God’s life-giving revelation.  In John 6, that life-giving revelation is Jesus himself.

What Jesus says here is amazingly similar to Sirach 24:19-22:  “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my produce . . . Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more.”  In this text, the speaker is Wisdom.  Clearly, Jesus now surpasses what was given through Wisdom.  Two very important things about God’s life-giving revelation in Jesus are immediately made clear:

First, the reception of this revelation is not something which takes place by chance since, not only does it have its source in God, but also the reception of it is, finally, due to God’s work:  “All that the Father gives me will come to me . . . ” (6:37).

Second, the form of this revelation and its consequences are simply spiritual but physical as well.  It is the Father’s will that “everyone who looks on the Son of Man and believes in him should have eternal life.”   Here, “eternal life” means being raised up (resurrected) “on the last day” (6:40).  In Jesus, revelation has a physical quality (humans can look upon it, as in 1 John 1:1) and it leads to the resurrection of the body.

4. 6:41-59: Echoing Exodus 16:2, 7-9, 12, in the Greek Old Testament, the crowd now “murmurs” about Jesus, just as it had done about Moses.  Notice that John partially identifies the crowd as “the Jews,” John’s code phrase for those who reject Jesus.  The reason for the murmuring is stated in 6:42 and appears, on the surface, to be genealogical in nature — Jesus’ parents are known and this knowledge does not seem to fit with the claim that Jesus “came down from heaven.”  The real issue, however, is theological:  John asserts that the human element of Jesus (having human parents) fits with his divine element, being the Word of God; this is the meaning of the initial assertion that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14).

A merely earthly perspective on Jesus will always result in the wrong conclusions.  In 6:43-46, Jesus replies but, typically, does not directly address the objection.  With respect to Jesus, what is truly important and saving is not what humans conclude about him, on their own, but what the Father brings about in them.

An adequate view of Jesus (belief) requires the initiative of God.  Quoting Isaiah 54:13, Jesus restates his point:  “And they will all be taught by God.”   The crucial statement comes in 6:47-51.  This section draws together 6:27, 32, and 35 into a synthesis of amazing concreteness.  The statements “whoever believes in me has eternal life” (6:47) and “I am the bread of life . . . If anyone eats this bread he will live forever” (6:48, 51) are parallel and mutually reinforcing statements.

Jesus identifies himself as the “living bread,” as manna, wisdom, and revelation from God.  These two statements make it clear how to appropriate the manna/wisdom/revelation, which is Jesus.  Jesus identifies belief as essential and makes it clear that it is not simply a human capacity or a mental act.  To believe in Jesus is not merely to entertain ideas about Jesus, which one understands to be true.  To believe in Jesus means that God has brought a person to Christ and has placed that person in a living relationship with him, such that God gives Christ  (the life-giving manna/wisdom/revelation) to the believer.  The ultimate consequence of belief is not enlightenment, but resurrection, to share eternal fellowship with God.

In 6:52-59, the parallel mode of receiving Jesus is made clear, though it is first introduced in 6:51:  “And the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh [sarx].”  This is surprising because we might expect that Jesus would say that the bread he will give is his body (soma).  Sarx is much more physical than soma and this seems to focus attention on the physical, concrete nature of Jesus in his incarnation, death and bodily resurrection. The bread Jesus gives for the life of the world is not a concept or a disembodied wisdom but himself, in his own incarnate, crucified. and risen reality.  6:53 is very close to the eucharistic language of Matthew 26:26,28:  “Take, eat; this is my body [soma=”self”] . . . Drink of it [the cup], all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many . . .”

Clearly, this is not meant in a cannibalistic sense, as if life was to be had from eating pieces of Jesus or drinking his actual blood.  (It is interesting to note, however, that the Romans did understand the early Christians to be cannibals, because they spoke in this way.)  Rather, the emphasis seems to be on the fact that the sacramental meal is a means, through which the living Jesus makes available his saving benefits.  The passage does not nake explicit the means by which “eating” mediates eternal life, access to Jesus, but it is possible that something along the lines of 1 Corinthians 10:14-16, where “eating” and “drinking” grant a “participation” (10:16) or koinonia in Christ is in view.  Whatever the means, the meal seems to be connected to Jesus, in the sense that both are physical realities (meal and Christ’ sarx) and the meal symbolically parallels Jesus’ incarnation (sarx), death (in the bread as broken and the cup as poured) and resurrection (celebrated, not in Jesus’ absence, but in his presence).

Questions for Reflection:

(1)  By speaking about Jesus as manna, wisdom, and revelation, John helps us to think concretely about Jesus as the bread of life.  In what other specific ways could we think about this?

(2)  By speaking of bread, the basic food staple of the day, John clearly states the utter dependence of Christians upon Christ.  In what ways does living in a society of abundance hinder this sense of dependence?

John 6:60-71

1. In the previous section (6:22-59) the crowd is identified as “the Jews” (6:41), that is, as those who explicitly oppose Jesus.  This group finds the whole bread of life discourse unbelievable because it understands Jesus only within a human framework (6:41-42, 52).  In this section, the audience is narrowed down, from a group distinct from the crowd and designated as “many of his disciples” (6:60) to the smaller group designated as “the Twelve” (6:67).

2.  The “hard saying” in 6:60 probably refers back to 6:53-56, in which Jesus’ sacrificial death is made unavoidably explicit.  This appears to be too much for those disciples who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but who now find the notion of his sacrificial death as beyond belief.  We are presented with two different responses to Jesus — both of which are inadequate.  The crowd is unable to get beyond bread and, thus, revealed to be earthly-minded.  The larger group of disciples is able to get beyond bread, to Messiah-ship, but is unable to take the Cross — and the eating and the drinking — which are the visible connections to it.

3.  The question in 6:62 is a little difficult, in Greek, but seems to mean something like “Would you not be even more offended were you to see the Son of Man ascending to return to the Father?”   It is one thing to accept Jesus as the Messiah (within the confines of this term’s Jewish meaning) and quite another to arrive at explicit Christian faith that Jesus is the incarnate Word, who returns to the Father, through his death and resurrection.

4.  The statement in 6:63 sounds a bit odd, given what has come before it, with the emphasis on Jesus’ flesh:  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.”  In what has come before, flesh (sarx) has a positive meaning, referring to Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion.  Now, the meaning has shifted to the negative:  “flesh ” as that dimension of creation alienated from God.  To use a Pauline phrase, the unbelief of the larger group of disciples is due to the fact that they are “in the flesh” (see Romans 7:5, for example); their own perceptions bind them in state, in which they remain, and hostility to God marks this state.   There is a great irony here.  The flesh of Jesus (understood as his death and resurrection) avails much while “the flesh” (understood as a merely human attitude to Jesus) avails nothing.

5.  6:64-65 shows that none of this is a surprise to Jesus.  He is neither shocked nor disappointed; the fact that some of his disciples do not really believe in him does not send him into a state of doubt about his own mission.  It is important to notice that the conviction that Jesus is Messiah is not counted as “belief” by Jesus in 6:64.  These disciples (who are not really disciples) are not given “partial credit” for thinking Jesus the Messiah; they fall into the same category as the crowd designated as “the Jews.”  The reason for this is made clear in 6:65.   All real faith has its mysterious origin in God.   Faith is a relationship of “abiding in” (6:56) and it is granted by God; it has not been granted to this group of disciples.

6.  All of this produces a crisis in Jesus’ ministry (the Greek meaning of the word, “crisis,”  iss a moment of decision).  Some of the faux disciples “turned back and no longer walked with him” (6:66).  Note that no mention is made of Jesus earnestly pleading for them to come back and think things over.

7.  6.67 makes is clear that the disciples have reached a moment of decision:  “Do you want to go away as well?”   What Peter says here is the equivalent of his confession in Mark 8:29.  Peter acknowledges the truth of what Jesus has been saying in this chapter.  Peter, speaking on behalf of true faith, acknowledges that the option of “going away” simply does not exist — he recognizes Jesus as the unique source of the “words of eternal life.”  Once again, as 6:70 indicates, Jesus is not surprised.  After losing many disciples, Jesus does not greet Peter’s confession with relief.  Peter is not congratulated on his loyalty or on remaining one of the faithful few; Jesus knows about Peter because he chose him.  Jesus does not make clear his reasons for choosing “a devil” (6:70).   The passage makes clear that Jesus does not see Judas as a huge disappointment (“Oh, he had so much potential!”).  This introduces an important theme of John’s account of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death.  Jesus does not appear to be a victim, in any way, nor an idealist, which a corrupt system has over-taken.  Jesus faces betrayal, arrest, and death with a sense of equanimity, not because he has no feelings but because he has long ago embraced the Father’s mission.

Questions for Reflection

(1)   Jesus makes it clear that “the flesh” (a merely human attitude) is a huge obstacle to faith. What are so me of the manifestations of “the flesh” that you see in your own life?

(2)   Does the idea of faith finally being a gift of God seem frightening or comforting (or both)?  What would you say to an atheist or agnostic friend who had read this passage?

(3) Could the idea of faith being a gift of God lead to irresponsibility (“I don’t believe because God has not given me the gift”)?

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Filed under Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John