I imagine Jesus’ audience stops listening when he says, “Eat my flesh; drink my blood,” never hearing what comes next. “I’ll abide in you and you’ll live.” We get mad, hear what we don’t like, we walk away, or tune out. You are better people than I. When I hear a politician, especially candidates these days, I stop listening, or reach for the remote. With Jesus we know what’s at stake – eternal life, now. And eating flesh and drinking blood is not literal but points us beyond this physical, impermanent existence to a realm we can’t understand. It’s not literal – after all, how many of us say, “Come worship with our church – we eat flesh and drink blood each Sunday. You’ll like it.”
When are times you want to say, “Jesus, what you say is too hard,” and walk away, too? One of the great fears people share with me is the fear of losing – death, a relationship, not succeeding, not having or being enough, their minds. When Jesus says, “Lose your life to save it,” many tune out. A friend tells me he loses patience with people who make promises they don’t keep. He’d like to tell them what he thinks, in Jesus’ love, of course. He thinks better and stops. It’s hard to lose our life when we think we’re right and someone else is wrong.
Have you ever heard an athlete interviewed who thanks God for giving them victory? What’s God’s position on those who lose or fail? I have never heard someone say, I am grateful to God for what I learned in this loss. Or when you’re in the weeds and pray for God to intervene. Nothing happens. That job you need doesn’t come. You feel like failure. Nobody’s saving your life. It’s hard to pull out the short stick of life. “You can be difficult, Jesus.”
Like Jesus’s followers, we prefer fish and loaves over living bread. “Why can’t Jesus do another miracle?” John calls them signs. They point beyond to the glory God. Yet we prefer the manna we can see, fish and loaves, rather than living bread we’re uncertain of. We want happy endings – to come out on top, win the prize, succeed, live a well-rounded life. We want God to do something to make our lives and this world a better place. That’s what people attracted to Jesus expected, not difficult words.
Many prefer religion over Jesus. Religion tells us how to play the game to get what we want from God. Successful preachers tell us how to live a successful life, what we can do so God will prosperous us. If you turn your life around, love God more, stop sinning, God gives you what you ask. Such words attract people, for a time. But they soon get hungry again and want more. It’s a bogus, empty gospel.
“Jesus, your teaching is difficult.” Many times we take the short view, and forget the long one. Yes – it is difficult – to die to ourselves and trust the life then God can give us, pray for our enemies, love the unlovable, be merciful to those who haven’t earned it. Lose your life – die to self – to save your life. That’s so counterintuitive.
So here’s gospel: We are saved in death – not delivered from it. That’s the difficult teaching. Salvation comes through the one who dies – the totality of his life freely given for us. Our work is to get out of his way, die to ourselves, take his life into ours and absorb his truth and values. People then and now don’t want to trust a dead God on a cross to save them. That’s not a selfie we’ll take with Jesus, is it? You don’t often see a dead savior on a cross in those inspirational, positive-thinking posters that hang on some walls.
Sometimes we win and succeed. Some days we don’t. We get so caught up in life’s struggles we forget a great cosmic drama goes on, behind the scenes – the story of how God saves us, through death. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know you are the Holy One of God.” “Peter, you have missed it again.” We don’t go anywhere. God comes to find us – as flesh, blood and death to show us salvation, and invite us to abide in him. God closes the leger books on sin. Earning God’s favor is declared over. God sends the spirit to raise us into forever-lasting life now. Until the final raising arrives, living bread and living wine sustain us. The great miracle is that God so loves us, and won’t let any of us stay dead forever. That’s the future into which we are headed. That won’t fix what’s wrong with our lives and the world now, necessarily. So do you prefer manna – or living bread? “Jesus, your teaching is so difficult.” Sadly many walk away, refusing to believe.
You and I can absolutely nothing to earn God’s favor and salvation, or lose it. God has created us in and for His love. On a cross God tacks up all the charges against us. In Jesus’ death, God writes PARDONED. And a cross of death and humiliation is miraculously made the sign of our salvation and life forever. “Jesus, your teachings are difficult.” Can you accept that? Where else would you want to go?