The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 6:56-69

 


THE HUGE CROWDS THAT FOLLOWED JESUS BECAUSE OF HIS FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND HAVE FADED AWAY DUE TO HIS INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TEACHING ABOUT THE BREAD OF HEAVEN. THERE ARE STILL A LOT OF THOSE WHO WANTED TO BE HIS DISCIPLES WITH HIM AS HE SITS IN THE SYNOGOGUE IN CAPERNAUM AND CONTINUES HIS TEACHING. NOW, WHEN HE SAYS, “THOSE WHO EAT MY FLESH AND DRINK MY BLOOD ABIDE IN ME AND I ABIDE IN THEM. JUST AS THE LIVING FATHER SENT ME, AND I LIVE BECAUSE OF THE FATHER, SO WHOEVER EATS ME WILL LIVE BECAUSE OF ME,” HIS FOLLOWERS ARE CONFUSED AND BEWILDERED, “THIS TEACHING IS DIFFICULT; WHO CAN ACCEPT IT?” WHEN JESUS HEARS THEIR COMPLAINTS, HE CHALLENGES THEM BY SAYING THAT IF THEY CAN’T ACCEPT THIS, THERE WILL BE THINGS TO COME THAT THEY WILL FIND EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT. THE RESULT IS THAT MANY OF THOSE FOLLOWING HIM MELTED AWAY, LEAVING JESUS WITH JUST THE TWELVE HE HAD ORIGINALLY CALLED.

MOST PEOPLE FROM THE LITURGICAL TRADITIONS, TO INCLUDE THE ROMAN CATHOLIC, EPISCOPAL, AND LUTHERAN CHURCHES, SEE IN JESUS’ WORDS A REFERENCE TO THE EUCHARIST. THEY CONSIDER HIS WORDS AS A REFERENCE TO THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE BREAD AND WINE. THE NON-LITURGICAL CHURCHES SEE HIS WORDS AS METAPHORICALLY ESTABLISHING THE LORD’S SUPPER. THE DIFFICULTY WITH EITHER INTERPRETATION IS THAT IT LEADS TO THE CONCULSION THAT THE MERE ACT OF EATING AND DRINKING THE BREAD AND WINE IS THE SOURCE OF ETERNAL LIFE. WHILE, AS ONE WHO SERVES AT THE ALTAR OF GOD, I AM NOT ONE TO DENY THE REAL PRESENCE IN THE EUCHARIST OR ITS NESCESSITY IN OUR LIVES, I DON’T THINK THAT JESUS IS REFERING TO THE EUCHARIST IN WHAT HE SAYS. SOMETHING ELSE IS GOING ON HERE.

CONSIDER FOR A MOMENT THE HORRIBLE EVENTS UNCOVERED IN PENNSYLVANIA RECENTLY, AND ELSEWHERE INCLUDING KANSAS CITY, OF THE VERY ONES CHARGED WITH CELEBRATING THE EUCHARIST SEXUALLY MOLESTING HELPLESS CHILDREN. HOW CAN WE DARE SAY THAT THEY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE IN GOD JUST BECAUSE THEY SAY SOME WORDS OVER THE BREAD AND WINE? THE RITUAL OF THE EUCHARIST DOES NOT GIVE ETERNAL LIFE; IT IS NOT THE WINE BUT THE LIFE BLOOD OF CHRIST.

THE ANSWER TO WHAT JESUS SAYS, CAN BE FOUND IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS. Leviticus 17:14
For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore, I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.
THE BLOOD WAS NOT PROHIBITED BECAUSE IT WAS DIRTY, BUT BECAUSE IT WAS HOLY. ALL LIFE COMES FROM GOD, AND ALL LIFE BELONGS TO GOD, AND THE LIFE OF EVERY CREATURE IS IN THE BLOOD. WHEN AN ANIMAL WAS SACRIFICED TO GOD, PART WAS BURNED ON THE ALTAR, PART WENT TO THE TEMPLE, AND PART WENT TO THE ONE MAKING THE OFFERING. THE BLOOD, HOWEVER, WAS BURNT ON THE ALTAR OF GOD BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO GOD. EVEN THE BLOOD OF WILD GAME HAD TO BE POURED OUT ON THE GROUND AND COVERED OVER WITH DIRT. ON THE DAY OF ATTONEMENT, WHEN THE HIGH PRIEST WOULD MAKE THE SACRIFICE ON BEHALF OF ALL THE PEOPLE FOR THEIR SINS, HE WOULD CARRY THE BLOOD INTO THE HOLY OF HOLIES AND POUR IT OUT BEFORE THE LORD. THE LIFE IS IN THE BLOOD, AND THE BLOOD IS HOLY TO GOD, SO ALL LIFE IS HOLY AND BELONGS TO GOD.

WHAT JESUS IS SAYING IS THAT WE HAVE BEEN LED TO HIM BY THE FATHER, AND THE WAY TO ETERNAL LIFE IS TO HAVE HIM LIVE IN US JUST AS HE LIVES IN THE FATHER. WE MUST BE OPEN TO THE WHOLENESS OF HIS SPIRIT LIVING IN US SO THAT WE ARE INFUSED WITH HIS FLESH AND BLOOD. WHEN JESUS SAYS WE ARE TO EAT HIS FLESH AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, HE IS SAYING, IN THE ANCIENT LANGUAGE OF LEVITICUS, TAKE MY LIFE AND POUR INTO YOUR BODIES, YOUR LIVES, YOUR SOULS. IN SO DOING, WE ARE MADE HOLY AS HE IS HOLY BECAUSE OF THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. IN THE WORDS OF THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER, “IN HIM, YOU HAVE MADE US WORTHY TO STAND BEFORE YOU . . . IN HIM, YOU HAVE LED US FROM DEATH INTO LIFE.” THIS IS NOT A ONE TIME EVENT, BUT IS A CONSTANT OPENING OF THE SELF TO THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST’S BLOOD IN OUR LIVES, AND, BY THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, LIVING IN CHRIST WITH CHRIST LIVING IN US, INFORMING AND GUIDING ALL OUR THOUGHT AND ACTIONS. THUS, BEING IN CHRIST, AND CHRIST BEING IN US, ALL THAT WE DO WILL BE HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD; AND ALL LIFE WILL BE SEEN AS HOLY SINCE ALL LIFE BELONGS TO THE FATHER.

YET, WE ARE NOT PERFECTED IN HOLINESS; WE ARE STILL BROKEN AND WEAK CREATURES, WHO ARE SUBJECT TO THE DEVICES AND DESIRES OF OUR OWN HEARTS. IN SO DOING, WE REJECT THE LIFE THAT CHRIST POURED OUT FOR US, AND FAIL TO SEE THE HOLINESS OF GOD IN OTHERS. WE USE OTHERS; WE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM FOR OUR OWN PURPOSES, AND SEE OTHERS AS THINGS TO BE USED INSTEAD OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO ARE LOVED BY GOD, WHO WE MUST LOVE AS CHRIST LOVES US. THIS IS THE WAY OF SIN, THE WAY OF DEPRAVITY, THE WAY OF DEATH. DURING AN INTERVIEW WITH THE BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE WHERE THE WORST ABUSE CASES HAPPENED, HE POINTED TO HIS COLLAR AND SAID TO THE INTERVIEWER, “YOU SEE THIS COLLAR? I TAKE GREAT PRIDE IN IT.” I SAID TO MYSELF, “AHA! THERE IS THE PROBLEM! THE PRIDE OF PLACE, PRIDE OF POSITION, PRIDE OF POWER.” ALL THE RITES AND RITUALS OF RELIGION ARE MEANINGLESS WITHOUT THE LOVE OF CHRIST. IT IS ONLY IN HIM, AND WITH HIM, AND THROUGH HIM THAT WE CAN BE HOLY IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.

AS SAINT PAUL ADMONISHES US, “BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN THE STRENGTH OF HIS POWER.” OUR OWN STRENGTH IS INSUFFICIENT; IT IS ONLY BY THE POWER OF THE BLOOD OF CHRIST, AND BY RELYING ON HIM ALONE, THAT WE CAN RISE ABOVE THE TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS OF OUR HUMAN CONDITION, AND BE, OURSELVES, A HOLY OFFERING TO GOD.

WHEN ALL HAD LEFT HIM BUT THE TWELVE, JESUS TURNED TO THEM AND ASKED, “DO YOU ALSO WISH TO GO AWAY?” SIMON PETER ANSWERED HIM, “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.” INDEED; IN HIM ALONE IS LIFE ETERNAL.
AMEN