Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14[b]) August 8, 2021
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” 41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
In the Name of Jesus.
There is something offensive about Jesus, about the way he does things; we can admit to this.
That’s not the way we would choose to have it. We would want Jesus to be impressive to our world, not offensive. We would want the world to hear the Name of Christ and be gathered into his Church. We would want our neighbor to hear the Gospel and be happily justified by faith. We would want to the Church to be attractive enough to our society that people would flock in through her doors, proudly counting themselves as Christians.
We know how this works in our world. If you open a new restaurant, you put up a sign to entice, an attractive logo to persuade people to pull in to the parking lot; we would not put up a sign with a picture of a rotten apple or a sick pig. If you’re running for office, you run as a proven fighter for the people with a photo of your perfect family on the campaign ads; you don’t run as an angry drunk with a picture of you yelling at your neighbor.
So we know how this works. Let’s make the Church enticing to our world. Attractive to our world’s sensibilities. Friendly to what she is looking for, so that our world will be drawn to the Gospel.
But right in the middle of the Church stands Jesus. Of him, there is something offensive. That’s the way the Apostle Paul puts it. 1 Corinthians 1:23:
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.
This offense of the cross, this inability of ours to look at Jesus and find him comfortable to the ways of our world, attractive to our reason—what is this about, where does this come from? John 6:41:
The Jews grumbled about [Jesus], because he said, “I am the bread that came down from Heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven’?”
The word Jews as John is using it of course does not refer to a race or nationality. Jesus himself is a Jew, and so is John and the Apostles. The word Jews here refers to a theological party, to a school of doctrine. It’s the teachers of the Law; it’s the party of those who teach how to justify yourself before God by living a clean life, keeping the Law. And Jesus offends them.
He says he came down from Heaven, they say, yet, do we not know his parents? Didn’t he grow up the same way we did? Doesn’t he put his sandals on one foot at time just like we do?
The commonness, the normality, the everydayness of Jesus—it’s offensive.
The Savior of mankind, the forgiver of sins, the Son of the Father in Heaven, the justifier of the sinner, and yet he eats soup just like we do and walks around with dirty sandals just like the rest of us—this is offensive.
And then there is, of course, the cross. Surely no Savior of mankind has as his greatest work being humiliated by a bunch of judgmental teachers of the Law, and has as his final act being nailed to a piece of wood and left to die in front of even his own mother. This is offensive.
It’s like the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He had just had his great victory over 450 prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel, he had the greatest day of his life with even calling down fire from the sky to light up the burnt offering so that all Israel could see the power of God, and the next thing we know, Elijah is scrambling around in the wilderness, hungry, thirsty, scared for his life, despairing, and ready to give it all up.
“It is enough now, O Lord,”
”take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
[1 Kings 19:4]
The commonness, the unimpressive everydayness of the Lord’s holy prophet, of a man named Elijah hiding in the wilderness, is this the way our Lord will work? Can we not see how this is offensive?
Yes, the world is offended. In the world, we’re impressed by a conquering Alexander the Great or a victorious General Patton; we’re impressed by men stepping out of a capsule to walk on the moon or by a woman physicist unlocking the secrets of radioactivity; we’re impressed even by a politician who runs a winning campaign for governor or an actor who turns every movie into a blockbuster. But by a man with no sword, no worldly victories, no earthly palaces, but coming only to suffer in the place of the sinner in order to shed the blood to atone for those who cannot justify themselves?
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven’?”
Yes, this is Jesus, from the household of Joseph and Mary. Jesus, who has joined us in our humanity, of the same flesh and blood we are, who sleeps at night like we do and wakes up in the morning in the same way as our families. Jesus who eats soup just like we do and puts his sandals on one foot at a time as he walks around Galilee.
Jesus, who is like us in every way, yet with no sin. The Father has sent him to us, that we may call him brother and see him who has no sin take our sin upon himself, so that our sin no longer belongs to us. It belongs to him.
He is the bread of life sent from the Father. And this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and has faith in him will have eternal life, and the Son will raise him up on the last day. [John 6:40]
It is offensive. To our world anyway—and offensive to our own sinful flesh. Our world wants victory according to what can be accomplished, grasped, like a winning political campaign or a popular restaurant. Weakness offends our world. Our own sinful flesh wants victory by what we can accomplish, by the keeping of the Law. Weakness offends our sinful flesh.
But then we look at Jesus. Sent from Heaven by the Father, given to us by birth from the Virgin, having lived among us as our brother, but on his way to the cross, to atone for our sin, to justify every sinner, so that anyone who looks upon the Son and has faith in him has eternal life.
We look at Jesus, and what was and is offensive to our sinful flesh, is, to our life of faith, the bread of life. John 6:51:
[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
In the Name of Jesus.