Benediction Online

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Did Jesus intend to offend?

John 6:56-69

I don’t know about you, but personally I find Donald Trump offensive. Yet on Friday night 30,000 people showed up to his rally in Alabama. I admit that I might have gone had it been here in San Luis Obispo. Not because I agree with what he says but I because I am curiously fascinated by just how outrageous, how offensive, and just plain wrong he can be. And, I apologize if I am offending anyone here, but I am horrified at the thought that anyone would want him as our President.

People followed Jesus because they were fascinated by him and excited by his miraculous abilities. But unlike Trump, Jesus didn’t bask in the limelight. When he realized that they wanted to make him king, Jesus quietly disappeared and by the end of this prolonged sermon on the bread of life he was teaching in the small Capernaum synagogue, not a football stadium.

But even though the crowd had dwindled considerably, many of Jesus’ disciples said, “This teaching is difficult… and they turned back and no longer went around with him.”

 “Those who gnaw my flesh and drink my blood abide in me” he said. It’s almost as though Jesus was intentionally trying to offend them.

And he succeeded.

“Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went around with him.” And what is Jesus’ response? He doesn’t seem to put any energy into getting them back. He doesn’t call to ask what went wrong or send them cards inviting them back. He doesn’t worry about whether they’ll pay their pledges or find someone else to take their job on the Sunday schedule. It seems like he just lets them go. Almost as though he doesn’t want a big following.

He does a similar thing in the gospel reading for St Benedict’s day. In that passage, Luke tells us that “large crowds were travelling with Jesus.” (Luke 14:25) Jesus is apparently not as excited about that as we might be because he tells them that they need to consider the cost of following him. Following him will mean leaving their families and even giving up their lives. Following him means carrying the cross. Luke doesn’t tell us whether that thinned out the crowd but I imagine it did.
Which is pretty interesting from our perspective. After all, more is better, right? Didn’t Jesus tell us to go and make disciples of ALL nations? 

We have the impression that the goal is for everyone to become disciples of Jesus. But that doesn’t seem to be his goal. Jesus called a small group of disciples and there were many others who also followed him and travelled with him. In Acts the disciples choose Matthias to replace the deceased Judas, describing him as a man who had been with them from the beginning from John’s baptism all the way through to Jesus’ ascension. So there were more disciples than just the twelve in the inner circle.

But not five thousand. Today, a megachurch is defined as one with more than 2000 members and there are approximately 50 churches which have an average attendance of 10,000 or more. That’s twice the number of people trying to get in on Jesus’ miracles. I wonder what Jesus would say if he were preaching at one of them this morning?

Probably exactly the same as he would say to us, “Those who gnaw my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever chews on me will live because of me….does this offend you?”

We are so used to hearing the stories about Jesus and his teachings that we forget to be offended. We dumb them down and sanitize them and we forget that they are shocking. Jesus was highly offensive. The Donald Trump of his day.

Except that there is a qualitative difference between Jesus and Donald. Jesus was on the side of the poor, the disabled and the marginalized. Jesus was himself poor and came from a place of deep compassion.

Yet he was offensive. Because he turned the religious conventions of the day upside down. Because he died the death of a traitor, ignominiously on a cross. Because he told them they’d missed the point.
I have a sneaking feeling that he would do the same today. I think Jesus would shake us up. Shake us out of our regular safe ways of doing things. I suspect he would laugh at the little wafer and the sip of white port that we have derived from his robust “gnaw my flesh and drink my blood.” But I think he might also grow sad as he looks at the way we his people live, with our often halfhearted discipleship, and he might say, as he said to his inner circle, "Do you also wish to go away?"

And I hope that we would answer with a resounding “NO”. No, we don’t wish to go away; we want to get closer. When we gather in the Eucharist we are coming because we want to be closer to God. We want to chew his flesh and drink his blood even though we know that it will be costly, even though we know that life with the living God is often challenging and will shake us to our very core.
It isn’t a path for the faint of heart. Jesus knew that. He actively discouraged those who weren’t really serious.

So how are we to think about this? If Jesus didn’t expect everyone to become his disciples, in fact actively discouraged them, then what about the idea that everyone needs to follow Jesus to be saved, or else?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that often we humans get the wrong end of the stick. Maybe the idea was never for everyone to be Jesus’ disciples, but by some of us taking that path and taking it seriously and wholeheartedly we get to transform the whole of humanity. Maybe that’s why we are called to be the salt of the earth. A small amount of salt seasons the whole dish. Even those who heard Jesus’ teachings but went home to their families would have been changed by it. When we come to God we never come alone, we are always bringing with us those whose lives are closely connected to ours.

We are the ones who have been called and have responded. We are the ones who are choosing to be Jesus’ disciples today. We are the ones who long to be drawn closer and closer to God. We are the ones who long to dwell with the living God as we heard from psalm 84 today in the setting by Brahms:

How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!
For my soul, it longeth, yea fainteth,
For the courts of the Lord.
My soul and body crieth out, yea for the living God.
How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!
Blest are they that dwell within thy house,
They praise thy name evermore.
How lovely is thy dwelling place!

And we will get to dwell in that place more and more, as we allow ourselves to be transformed by chewing the flesh and drinking the blood of the one who is the bread of heaven.


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