Have you ever participated in a blindfolded taste test? To introduce this sermon, we had a blindfolded taste test, inviting three volunteers to each come forward. They didn’t know it, but they were about to eat a bite of different kinds of bread and different red-colored beverage. One person had V8. Another had pumpernickel. Each delicious or repulsive, depending on your taste preferences. Our volunteers were brave and handled the test with courage, but one admitted they were nervous, wondering if we were going to feed them bugs.
Often people feel some fear about blindfold tests. Why? They don’t know what they are getting into, how it will taste, feel, and how they will react. There is some fear associated with that. Will they react in an embarrassing way? Will people make fun of them? Laugh at them? Will the fail in some way? In other words, they are placing themselves in a situation in which they are giving up some control of their lives, and that is risky, scary and fearful. That emotion is precisely what is going through the crowd of the people Jesus was talking to in John 6.
Let’s recap where we’re at in Jesus’ life. The day before this passage, Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000+ people. They were so excited, they wanted to make him King. His mission was not to be a governmental or military ruler, however, so he says “Nope,” and leaves the crowd to go find silence and solitude. His disciples meanwhile head home, sailing across the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum. A powerful storm breaks around them, and the waters become dangerous. Then, perhaps even more fearful, they see a figure walking toward them on the raging waters. Thinking it is a ghost, they are terrified. But it’s Jesus! He tells them “Be not afraid,” and right after they bring him into the boat, the boat immediately arrives safely at shore.
The next day, a now smaller crowd of people find Jesus in Capernaum, and they ask him to do more miracles. Jesus has a conversation with them that reveals their motivations. They don’t really want Jesus for Jesus’ sake. They want more about Jesus so that they can get what they want. They want more free food. They want a military ruler to free them. When Jesus says that he himself is the Bread of Life, and they need to eat his flesh, they start to grumble. This is not the Jesus they wanted.
That brings us to John 6, verse 52, right in the middle of the conversation. How will the people respond to Jesus’ suggestion that they should eat his flesh? Let’s read verse 52:
“Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”
Which is exactly the question that I would be asking as well. If anyone said to me, “Here, let me cut off a finger for you to eat, and you’ll live forever,” I would get away from them fast. What is this? A zombie? A cannibal? A horror movie? What kind of preacher tells you to eat his flesh? Of course the people there that day hearing Jesus are thrown into a tizzy. But who were the people arguing about Jesus?
When John here refers to “The Jews,” it is likely a reference to the religious leaders, and even more specifically, it was probably the Pharisees. We first learned that they were in the crowd back in verse 42. But the reality, if you scan back to chapter 5, verses 16-18, is that the religious leaders were pursuing Jesus, because they wanted to take him down. They were extremely suspicious of this former handyman with little or no religious training, especially because this guy had no problem confronting them. Remember what he said them in response to their grumbling? In chapter 6, verse 43, he said, “Stop it!” They were not used to people confronting them.
Now maybe they have Jesus where they want him. He is saying bizarre stuff. Jesus is saying that he himself is the Bread of Life, and if people eat this bread they will live forever. If you are a Christian, you might be used to hearing that kind of sentiment from your Christian background. “Jesus is the Bread of Life.” Normal, right? But imagine being a person there that day. How would they hear Jesus? I suspect they could be thinking, “Jesus sounds off.”
When John says in verse 52, “The Jews began to argue sharply among themselves” I wish I could see video of their argument. In Jewish Law, what Jesus has just suggested is 100% wrong. Jews are famous for their dietary restrictions. Jesus’ suggestion of eating his flesh is not only disgusting in the “Ew, Jesus, that’s gross” sense, it is deeply repulsive in the cultural spiritual sense. But only if you take Jesus literally.
And that’s why assuming that we should always read the Bible literally is dangerous. I wonder if that’s what Jewish leaders might be arguing about. Maybe some of them said, “He’s not being literal! He’s being figurative.” To which another would respond, “Well, if he’s being figurative, what does he mean? Bread of Life…eternal life? From heaven? He’s claiming to be God, to be divine. He is so busted.”
If you think that “eat my flesh” is bad, what he says next is arguably worse. It really doesn’t seem like Jesus is doing himself any favors. We’ll find out about that in the next post.
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