It was meant to be a straight forward request for food. Last time they were hungry, Jesus had performed for them using a lad’s packed lunch. Everyone had eaten their fill, but that was yesterday. The crowds wanted feeding again.
It took a lot of effort, but they found Jesus. However he starts talking about food that doesn’t rot away, but rather food that makes a man live forever. “Work hard for that food,” he says. (John 6:27 ESV)
Since Jesus was going on about work, the crowds ask him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ (John 6:28 ESV)
Jesus replies, ‘Believe in him who he has sent.’ (John 6:29 ESV)
Believe? Then the crowds mention the manna.
Jesus clarifies a point. Moses didn’t provide the manna bread, God did. He further states that the bread of heaven is the one who ‘comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ (John 6:33 ESV)
Naturally that sounds good. ‘Give us that then,’ the crowds say, with their tummies rumbling.
‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ (John 6:35 ESV)
‘You what, Jesus?! You’re Joseph’s lad, the carpenter’s son. You’re having a laugh, you are! Stop messing and just feed us, you know, like you did yesterday with that lad’s packed lunch.”
Jesus says again. ‘I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This (probably pointing to himself) is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ (John 6:48-51 ESV – I added the italics.)
And when they grumble again, Jesus doesn’t let up or give them an easier explanation. He adds the blood. ‘Oh and I’m not just food. Remember when I said you’d never thirst? Well you’ve got to drink my blood too. Live on me, live in me, and I’m in you. Just as I live because of God, so too will you live then.’
I should mention that the Bible tells us that ‘Jesus said these things in the synagogue.’ (John 6:59 ESV)
Most of the people who had been following Jesus left at this point, saying, ‘This is a hard saying.’ (John 6:60 ESV)
And it is difficult, for certain. I struggle with this one, but the key to unlock this teaching for me is just as much in the listeners’ responses as it is in the words Jesus says.
Some hear Jesus’ words and can’t suss it. They can’t cover it in salt and vinegar, wrap it up in paper and carry it home. He has taken them beyond their understanding, beyond their ability to reason or make sense of God and godly things. So they stop following Jesus and leave, hungry.
The Twelve disciples, though, they remain. They hear the same statements about Jesus’ body and blood bringing life, and they stay.
Jesus gives them an out though. He asks them, point blank, ‘Do you want to leave too?’ (John 6:67)
And Peter answers ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’ (John 6:68-69 ESV)
Although Judas was still relying on his human understanding of the Messiah story (Bible points that out), eleven of the Twelve were no longer relying on their own reasoning or understandings. They couldn’t think of the Last Supper and of church communion like we can. They didn’t have Christian traditions. They had Jesus, and despite his words being completely incomprehensible at that point, they knew Jesus. They relied on Jesus.
And that, for me, is the point. They had come to the end of their selves, their humanity, and were starting to glimpse the divine. The teacher and miracle worker Jesus was also set apart for God’s purposes. He was the ‘Holy One of God.’ These Eleven were going to stick with Jesus because they knew that’s where God was, even if they couldn’t comprehend what God was doing or see exactly where he was going.
This is life on the edge. That uncomfortable place of being on the edge of ‘known’ and seeing the ‘unknown’, knowing your next step would take you there.
But who do you trust? Your reasoning that shouts ‘turn around’? Or Jesus who says, ‘Abide in me’? (John 6:56)
It is a difficult teaching.
God’s shown me though (mostly through my mistakes!) that there’s no other way but following where Jesus leads. And for me, it’s coming to the edge of me when I see God moving in my life.
When I stop striving and trust Him.