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Hard sayings of the Bible

Hard sayings of the Bible – John 6:51-58

 

my blood and my bodyJust recently, I came across a Bible reference book, authored by notable biblical scholars, called, ‘Hard Sayings of the Bible.’ For our Gospel reading for today it had this to say; this was the original hard saying: as John reports, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘this is a hard teaching; who can accept it?’” (Jn 6:60) (p. 463).

The reason why this is considered to be a hard saying of the Bible is because it seems that Jesus is promoting a kind of religious cannibalism. The original audience certainly thought he was, but is this what Jesus is actually saying? To answer this question we need to consider Jesus’ words in the overall context of the chapter they come from, (chapter 6), and in John’s Gospel as a whole.

Chapter 6 commences with the only miracle (besides Jesus’ resurrection) to be recorded in all four Gospels; the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. John’s Gospel uses this miracle as a launch pad into Jesus’ extensive teaching on himself being the Bread of Life (v. 35), which is one of Jesus’ great ‘I am’ statements recorded in John’s Gospel.

This is the key to understanding the meaning of Jesus’ words in today’s reading. When we consider Jesus’ other ‘I am’ statements, we soon realize that Jesus is not speaking literally but metaphorically. For example; when Jesus said, I am the true vine (John 15:1-17) it is abundantly obvious that he is not claiming to actually be a grapevine. Likewise when he said, I am the good shepherd (John 10:1-18), this clearly does not mean that his followers are literally sheep.

So too, when Jesus’ said I am the bread of life, this does not mean that we actually eat his flesh but that just as bread sustains us physically, so believing in and relying on Jesus sustains us spiritually. This truth is summed up well in the invitation extended to each communicant in our Common Prayer Book: “Come let us take this holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in remembrance that he died for us, and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving” (p. 142). To feed on Christ in one’s heart by faith with thanksgiving is to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” and so have eternal life.