How do we respond when Jesus says something crazy?
If you’ve read thru the Gospels, or even just a Gospel or two, you’ve probably noticed that Jesus says some crazy things. He says we should turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38) and we should be born “again” (John 3:3). Jesus tells us to “give to EVERYONE who begs from [us]” and not to “refuse anyone who wants to borrow” (Matthew 5:42). He even says we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:43).
These are at the top of my list—they are, to me, among the craziest of Jesus’ teachings. By “crazy” I mean hard to understand and even harder to implement.
After Jesus fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, people asked him if he was going to give them bread from heaven like Moses did. He, more or less, said “I have bread for you, let me tell you about it.” He proceeded to say something that sounded really crazy then, and still sounds crazy today. He said:
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died… I am the living bread that came down from heaven… Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:48-49, 51, 53-55).
The people with him in Capernaum that day weren’t cannibals! They didn’t want to eat human flesh or drink human blood. In fact, as Jewish men and women, they would have avoided blood. In Leviticus 17, God tells the Israelites, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” If anyone “eats any blood,” God says “I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people” (Leviticus 17:10-12).
And yet, Jesus tells them to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
We know this was a very difficult teaching because in response people said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” In fact, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:60, 66).
We also know this was a difficult teaching because of how the church has struggled with it for these 2,000 years. At the risk of over-simplifying things, here’s a quick summary of how different Christians handle the eating of Jesus’ flesh and drinking of his blood (aka, Communion).
Our Roman Catholic friends believe the unleavened wafers and wine they use are transformed by God, at the request of the priest, into the actual flesh and blood of Christ.
Our Lutheran friends say the body and blood of Christ attach themselves to the elements in the process of Communion, but they also retain their character as bread and wine.
Our Presbyterian friends say Jesus is spiritually present, but not physically present.
Our Baptist friends say this is an act of remembrance, Jesus isn’t in the bread spiritually or physically.
In my denomination, The United Methodist Church, we believe Jesus is present, but we make no claim about how or when. We claim, instead, that God can change us through Communion so that we can embody Jesus and make the world more like the Kingdom of God.
There in Capernaum, we see the crowd respond to Jesus’ crazy talk in three different ways.
- Some rejected Jesus, they “turned back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:64). At least one (Judas) stayed, but later betrayed Jesus (John 6:70-71).
- Some stayed but grumbled to each other (John 6:61). They could have asked Jesus their questions, but they didn’t. They wanted to hold on to their complaints, rather than seek a resolution.
- Some stayed and remained faithful.
Simon Peter speaks for the third group. He says, “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” (John 6:68-69). It’s almost as if Simon Peter is saying, “this is a hard teaching. We would leave, but if we go to someone else, they won’t be The Holy One. So Jesus, even when your teaching is hard, we’re going to stay with you.”
These are the options we have when it comes to any of Jesus’ crazy talk. Do we run away? Do we stay, but grumble? Or, do we stay and follow because, after all, where else can we find The Holy One?
What do you think is the craziest thing Jesus says? How do you respond? Do you turn back from that teaching? Do you grumble about it? Do you follow it? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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