Who do we turn to in times of uncertainty or crisis? Many years ago, when we lived in Devon, I remember returning late at night on the train from London. My wife picked me up at Totnes station and as we drove home we passed a young man with a pony tail walking along the road carrying a flagon of cider over his shoulder. He then stepped out into the road and the car behind us, not seeing him, ploughed straight into him and hurled him into the gutter. We stopped our car and I rushed back to cover him with my jacket to keep him warm. He was lying in a pool of blood and the only discernible words he uttered were “Jesus Christ”. Was it a prayer, was it a form of blasphemy, we did not know and wondered, in fact, how much it really mattered. This young man’s life had been ripped apart in a space of a few seconds. Who did he turn to? Who could he turn to? Who would we turn to? In a sense, the Bible reading assigned to this week captures the same question facing the disciples. Jesus had just been talking about the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Many of his followers found this very hard teaching and some had turned away from Him. Realising this, Jesus asks the twelve whether they were going to leave as well. Peter’s reply is remarkably insightful. He, through the power of the Holy Spirit, grasped the eternal truth that nobody else did. That truth is the same today as it was then. In times of uncertainty or crisis there is nobody else we can ultimately turn to. Or, in the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.”
A few years ago, I took part in a fast organised by Tearfund. Over a period of one week, I lived off only a small amount of rice and oats in line with the same amount that a person from an economically poor family in Chad would have. Each night I remember being drained of energy, and listless. I struggled to get anything significant done during the day and it raised my awareness of the difficulties facing economically poor families in all countries where there are food shortages. It struck me how difficult it is in these countries to find the energy to improve the situation of poverty. In the Bible reading assigned to this week, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven”. Jesus goes onto say that, to have life we need to feed on this bread. The language of eating flesh and drinking blood seems offensive in our society. It is good to remember two things. Firstly, Jesus was speaking figuratively and, secondly, this sort of language was very common in the first century. However, what does this mean for us today? Bread, which was a staple diet, was necessary for life and gave energy, purpose and health to those who had it. If we are continually fed, we can devote our time to other things. We can start to be creative and we can start to help not only ourselves, but also others who are hungry in other parts of the world, including Chad. In short, we can start to be the people that God calls us to be by fully living. Jesus says, “Just as the living Father sent me, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” Let us therefore continue to feed on Jesus in the week ahead.
How quick are we to judge by outward appearance? When we receive a message, do we first look at the messenger before responding? Are we swayed by their manner and even background? In the Bible reading for this week, this was precisely what the Jews did with the message they received from Jesus. “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” The Jews could not believe that the Messiah would be a Galilean tradesman. Jewish tradition held that the Messiah would appear in their midst, announced by Elijah. They knew he would come from Bethlehem but, somehow, not as a baby brought up in a family. However, in Jesus’ background, we get a further glimpse of the nature of God. Born as a baby and raised as a child, Jesus was identifying fully with being human. Frail, weak, vulnerable and immersed in the messiness of family life. This is our God. He does not suddenly appear as a king with no history of hardship and toil but rather as a human being who has trod the path of life like us. The God of the cosmos getting fully alongside us in our daily lives. What humility! What a Saviour!
Perhaps most people in our society believe that Christianity is about doing good works. Certainly, this was the belief about God in Jesus’ time. The Jews held that by living a good and moral life they could earn the favour of God. Hence, in the Bible reading assigned to this week, for example, the people ask Jesus: “What does God want us to DO!” Jesus’ reply transformed their whole way of thinking. At least, it would have done had they heeded it. Jesus says it is not about what you do. The only thing you need to ‘do’ is ‘believe’. Believe in the one that God has sent, and He will give you the true bread from heaven. What did Jesus mean? Jesus was saying that no amount of good works could ever earn God’s favour and there wasn’t a hierarchy of people who did more good works than others. God is never indebted to us for what we have done for Him. What God seeks is relationship. A relationship through the Son who is the only one who can atone for our failings. God, in Christ, offers us this relationship. It is a free gift. All we need to do is to accept what God, in Christ, has done for us. Then, once we are in this relationship with God, we will want to please God. We will want to lead pure, holy and righteous lives serving others, not because we have to, but, rather, because we want to.