John 6:56-69 “How Do We Know What We Know?”
August 26, 2012 – Caitlin Trussell
Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO
John 6:56-69 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I have read this text out loud, several times over the last few weeks and, each time I get to the end, I find myself taking a long, deep breath. As if the text itself is infusing something into me. I think I even said, “Yum,” once. So good I could almost taste it. What’s up with that? What is it about being in this fifth week of the 6th chapter of John that is so simply delicious? Oh, and by-the-by, this is indeed the last in this series that are sometimes called the “bread texts.” So infamous are they among pastors that some choose to preach out of alternate texts during these five weeks in Year B of the Lectionary. I, however, am grateful that we have had this bread as a steady diet these last weeks and now find ourselves nibbling into the last course of the feast.
And, on this day, some of the disciples say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Just before they pose this question, Jesus says that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” Is this the difficult teaching? Or how about the part where Jesus says, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” Is that the difficult teaching? While we’re at it, is the whole of Chapter 6, which begins with the feeding of the 5,000, the difficult teaching? Or do we go back to the very first verse of John, Chapter 1? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Greek of “Word” here is “logos.”
John also uses the Greek “logos” in verse 60 of our text today, which many Bibles translate into “teaching.” It makes me curious that the disciples are struggling with “logos” here – the logos, the Word, who was in the beginning and is now standing in front of them as Jesus, who continues to make a divine claim. And it gives me even greater pause to think about struggle to accept. “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” And the way I ultimately hear this question is, “You say you’re God…really?!”
In response to this question, Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?” Then he proceeds to heap a bunch more on the pile – more difficult to accept teaching added to the already difficult to accept teaching he just spent so much time on. “Does this offend you?” And “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
Jesus turns, looks at those still standing there, and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” I imagine this moment as really quiet, no one wants to be the first one to speak. Peter responds with this beautiful question, “Lord to whom can we go?” It’s curious to note that there is no “yes” or “no” answer here in the text. “Do you also wish to go away?” Answered with, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I want to ask a question of my own. “How do I know what I know?” Think about this for a minute. “How do you know what you know?” Some might answer, “I know what I know through logic or reason.” Some might say, “I know it in my gut.” Others might say, “I know because it feels right.” Some might even answer, “I know because it matches my experience.” I’m at a point in my life where it would be cool if a couple of someones, who shall remain nameless, would answer that question by saying, “I know because my Mom said so.” Hey, a gal can dream.
Peter says, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” How do belief and knowing happen? How do I know what I know? Heart? Head? Gut? Experience? How do I know what I know? Here’s another thought…the Holy Spirit helps us to believe and know. There’s a wild part of our Sunday worship that we all speak together called the Apostle’s Creed. In the 3rd part, sometimes called the 3rd article, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Martin Luther explains this part of the Apostle’s Creed this way, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.” This belief and knowing through the Holy Spirit isn’t something we’re super good at explaining or talking about. And most of us move through the world strongly preferring those other ways of knowing without considering the Spirit’s involvement in how we know what we know.
The Spirit’s gift of belief is simply a gift. Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter doesn’t answer “yes” or “no” to Jesus question. But rather says, “Lord to whom can we go?” The verse that we’re not privy to in our reading today is v70 in which Jesus says, “Did I not choose you, the twelve?” … “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”
Belief in Jesus is not a logic problem. It is difficult to argue exactly what it is. But, along with Peter and the apostles who ultimately abandoned Jesus in the events of the cross that follow our story today, faith seems not to be something we dredge up in ourselves. It…is…placed…there. It is a kind of knowing for which we do not own good language.
And it is why we commune, why Jesus feeds us at his table, where we are given wine to drink and bread to chew. When Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them,” this isn’t simply a poetic spiritual notion. This is an earthy, intimate one in bread and in wine. One of my professors says that, “This is the love of God in Christ that wishes to preach to your small intestine.”
Hear these words again from our text today…
“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.”
“Does this offend you?”
“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”
“Do you also wish to go away?”
“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.”
“Did I not choose you?”
 Steve Paulson, professor, Luther Seminary.