DOES THIS OFFEND YOU? – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 16, Year B; Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

August 22, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43 or Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 84 or Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-10
John 6:56-69

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23 (9a)
Ephesians 5:21 (22-24) 25-32
John 6:60-69

At one time or another you’ve probably met someone who loves to “get a rise” out of people. You know the type, right? —someone who seems to enjoy shocking and even offending others. Some media personalities have become known as “shock jocks” for precisely this way of relating to audiences or guests.

Although Jesus did not set out to offend or shock, all four Gospels portray him as someone who was not afraid to do so if required. Jesus never backed away from proclaiming a message that people did not care to hear nor did he shy away from demanding commitments that many were unwilling to make.

Among the most shocking of all Jesus’ teachings was the one to which his followers were reacting in today’s reading from the Gospel of John: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). Those who do eat his flesh and drink his blood, on the other hand, will have eternal life (6:54). Even now, he asserts, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (6:56).

The notion of eating human flesh was no less repugnant to Jewish audiences at the time of Jesus than it is for us today. Moreover, Jewish law strictly prohibited the consumption of animal blood, and so drinking human blood was a serious taboo.

This story, and the entire Gospel of John for that matter, needs to be understood in the context of its prologue (1:1-14). In the opening verses of the Gospel, Jesus is identified as the Word that existed from the beginning. This flesh-and-blood itinerant preacher Jesus whose family was well known in the surrounding territories is the Word that was with God from the beginning. The Word was God, and the Word became flesh. The good news of John’s Gospel is that the Word dwells among us as a human being, and so we come to know God most fully in the flesh.

Jesus challenges his audience to believe that the presence of God is among them in flesh and blood. Not only can he provide bread from heaven; he himself is the bread that gives life. Many of his followers who may have admired his compassion for sick and hungry people found this claim a step too far and made the choice to walk away.

At this point, Jesus turns to his closest disciples—and to us who hear these words today—to ask if we can see God in this flesh-and-blood human being whose glory will be revealed as his body is broken and his blood is poured out on the cross. Peter responds on their behalf, “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” (6:68-69).

We make that same profession of faith as we eat and drink together at the Lord’s table and have communion with the body and blood of the crucified and risen Lord. We stake our own lives on the God who is revealed in flesh and blood. We dare to trust in the nourishment that comes from abiding in the one who poured out his lifeblood, who gives his flesh as food “for the life of the world” (6:51).

“Does this offend you?” (6:61), Jesus asks—or can we place our faith in a God who is most fully revealed in the Word made flesh, and whose presence we can discern among us still in the people and events of the world in which we live?

A Hymn for Today: “O Jesus, I Have Promised”

This hymn was written by an Anglican clergyman for the confirmation of his own children. In some churches it has been used frequently both for confirmation celebrations and for reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. For those who respond to Jesus as Peter did in today’s Gospel, “Lord, to whom shall we go?,” it is an appropriate elaboration of that commitment to follow.

O Jesus, I have promised to serve you to the end;
be now and always near me, my Master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle if you are by my side,
nor wander from the pathway if you will be my guide.

O let me feel you near me! The world is ever near:
I see the sights that dazzle; the tempting sounds I hear.
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
but, Jesus, draw still nearer and shield my soul from sin.

O let me hear you speaking in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, true guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, you have promised to all who follow you
that where you are in glory your servant shall be too.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve you to the end;
now give me grace to follow, my Master and my friend.

Text: John Ernest Bode, 1866, alt.

Image Credit: Communion bread, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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