John 6:56-69. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’*
Good PR. It wasn’t long after we moved to Connecticut (1992) that we took the kids to New York City. It was about 10:30 in the morning on a beautiful summer day when we walked by the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center. We saw television lights and cameras on the side street next to the building, so we stopped to look (isn’t that what tourists are supposed to do?). The police had stopped traffic and security guards were keeping people away from the equipment, but we were the only people around because the major event of the morning had already happened. The “Today Show” cast does little parts of the program out on the street with the crowd, but we had missed that. Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric had just gone inside. Now the camera crew was setting up for something else.
In a few minutes, the Today Show cast came back out to do “promo” commercials for New York City. Katie Couric and Anne Curry, one at a time, would stand with Rockefeller Center behind them, people walking by, and the director would say, “Who’s for New York?” They would say, “I’m for New York!” The director started with Anne Curry.
“No – louder. Who’s for New York?”
“I’m for New York!”
“More enthusiasm. Who’s for New York?”
“I’m for New York!”
“More animated. Who’s for New York?”
“I’m for New York!”
“Keep it rolling. Who’s for New York?
“I’m for New York!!”
“Who’s for New York?
“I’m for New York!!! You can’t get much more animated than this!!!”
The camera crew started to laugh because Anne Curry – the news person on the program – wasn’t usually excited about much. But here she was being all enthusiastic for New York City and really throwing herself into it. The director knew exactly what he wanted her to do and how to get her to do it. I never saw the commercial they were working on – maybe NBC only showed it in the Midwest. But somewhere, somebody turned on a TV, caught the enthusiasm, and came down to the city to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and spend a little money.
While Anne Curry was doing her “takes,” Katie Couric walked up to us to say hello. She talked to Kathy and the kids and wrote on our tourist map. “Thanks for stopping by. Have fun in New York.” You can picture exactly how she said it. She was really nice.
Afterward, it occurred to me how well-trained these folks are to say precisely what people want to hear. I walked away thinking, “Hey, that was kind of neat. Nobody in New York much wants to talk to you unless you’re going to pay them for something, and here, in the middle of 49th Street, Katie Couric walked up and talked to us like we were together at a church dinner.” Our new best friend!
Jesus’ PR. Most of the time, public people like TV personalities and politicians running for office give the crowd exactly what they hope they’ll get: a big smile, enthusiasm, a warm hello. In the gospel stories, sometimes, it seems that Jesus is giving the crowd exactly what they want. They’re sick, he heals them (John 6:2). 5,000 people on a hillside need something to eat (6:5-13). Jesus gives them what they need – free – and they eat it up, literally. And to them, he is their new best friend.
Jesus became known for spending time with all sorts of people; he had a reputation as a nice guy who could do good things for everyone. No matter who you were, he would have dinner with you. But then suddenly, Jesus says something totally inappropriate. Each of the gospels describe a moment when Jesus says something that turns people off, and usually not just a few individuals. In the gospel of Mark, Peter tries to coach Jesus, tries to direct Jesus, but Jesus won’t have anything to do with it. He says, “Get behind me Satan!” (Mark 8:33) Jesus just doesn’t seem to understand that there are influential people who need to be impressed. Come on Jesus; it’s easy. Just say what they want to hear! Who’s for Jerusalem? I’m for Jerusalem! Who’s for theTemple? I’m for the Temple!
But instead, he says things like, ” Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56) And his own people began to complain about him. A few years later, a rumor went around the Roman Empire that there was a new religion of cannibals called Christians – probably because of the words you read in the 6th chapter of John.
So what does this mean that “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them?” Jesus is trying to get your attention! He’s saying that life is more than just eating and drinking. We’re hungry for it – something to believe in, something that gives meaning to life. Something that fills that void, that emptiness at the core of us.
If you have prayed to God for healing, and God heals you, God only fixes your body. What God really wants is your faith. That’s where the real healing needs to happen. God wants to be one with us, to fill the void.
Hunger is a huge problem in our world. Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” God calls us to connect people with the bread they need for both physical and spiritual nutrition. Follow the pattern of Jesus….
Those 5,000 people Jesus fed on the hillside were hungry again a few hours later. The meal fixed the immediate need, but they need more than food. After the meal, after everyone has eaten their fill, Jesus stands up and says, “I’m it! I’m what you need! I’m the bread of life. Let’s be so together with each other that you are eating and drinking me into yourself. Eat my flesh and drink my blood. Abide in me. Believe in me; take me into your life. Then help me feed the world.”
But that’s hard to hear, and some of his people began to fall away. To the twelve in the inner circle he asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” (6:67).
It’s a great question to ask ourselves. Do we wish to go away? Have we had enough of this ministry with Jesus? Have we been with Jesus long enough to know that he requires us to give out of our abundance to those in need? That Jesus requires us to be doing our ministry, almost always when it’s least convenient? That we deny ourselves and risk rejection for having that kind of faith, with Jesus at the center?
It got hard and people left. It’s interesting that when people walked away from Jesus, he never tried to get them to stay. But those who stayed found out that God gave them a kind confidence for living and power for change that they didn’t have before.
Peter said it best: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The change begins when each of us can say that for ourselves.
Prayer. O God, there is so much to know about you and our minds are so limited. Open our minds to know you. Open our minds to the possibility that we don’t know you as we should know you; that we don’t even know ourselves as well as we should. Help us understand that at the family table, at your supper, you accept us as we are. Open our minds to the Bread of Life. Open our hearts to Christ. We give you our trust, knowing that you will use us to change your world. There are so many needs – from New Orleans to New York. There is so much to change, and it begins with us. Open our hearts now to the Bread of Life.