Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Proper 16 Gospel

John 6:60-69

Jesus said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven... the one who eats this bread will live forever." When many of his disciples heard this, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 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. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." Because of this many of the disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "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."

NRSV Copyright Statement
Reflection on John 6:60-69 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Biblical texts are seminal in that they typically start conversations rather than end them. Fundamentalist (and other) attempts to squelch dialogue by “prooftexting” both dishonor the Written Word and deny the real person of the Living Word. The Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its 1993 publication The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, rightly regards a fundamentalist reading as the most dangerous approach to scripture. [In her commentary on the Fourth Gospel, Teresa Okure, S.H.C.J. of Nigeria discusses ways of reading this gospel. Her contribution is in William R. Farmer (Ed.), The International Bible Commentary: A Catholic and Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998.)]

“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” That statement, whether from the lips of Jesus or from the writer’s summary of Jesus’ meaning, expresses Jesus’ way of using language. Interacting with those who heard him, Jesus used words to make way for a new “spirit” among them, to open up new possibilities for life in their experiences (both spiritual and physical). Simon Peter got the point: “You have the words of eternal life,” so there’s nowhere else for us to go than to the One who preeminently speaks to us in life-giving ways, and does so incomparably.

During these four Sundays with John 6 we have been in controversial territory that some have mined for sacramental meaning, then many have been in disagreement about that meaning (“in, with, and under,” “transubstantiation,” etc.), and others have found therein no relevance for the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. Such a text challenges us to allow even biblical words to be “life-giving” rather than life denying. From a Lutheran viewpoint Gerhard Krodel’s expository article on John 6:63 [Interpretation, 37/3 (July 1983), 283-88] contrasts early Swiss Reformed approaches with Martin Luther’s. Both approaches, however, “agreed that John 6:51-59 did not deal with sacramental eating and drinking of Christ’s flesh and blood. Rather eating and drinking in this section was understood to be a metaphor for believing in Christ” (285). Not literal but spiritual eating and drinking is enjoined, and that is the same as “faith.”

At the same time, as Krodel reports, there is nothing in 6:63 that contradicts sacramental eating and drinking: “‘Spiritual’ eating cannot be limited to the reception of the preached word and should be present at the sacramental meal (LW 38, 238)” (285). We return to William Temple for a balanced statement that is particularly apt for a website that is devoted to “environmental stewardship.” He protests against “a vague religiosity which has no definite and critical moments, no fixed religious practice, no cutting edge”:

“We all know the people who seek to absorb the Spirit of the Creator by contemplation of the beauties of creation – an admirable exercise in itself – instead of anything that could by any stretch of language be called eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man. It is vital for our spiritual well-being that we be brought to the point of specific worship, wherein we seek to receive Christ into our souls.” [Readings in St. John’s Gospel, p. 98; London: Macmillan, 1952 reprint of 1945]

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Joshua 24:1-2a,14-25
no reflection available
Psalm 16
Psalm 34:15-22
no reflection available
New Testament Ephesians 5:21-33
Gospel John 6:60--69
this page

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.

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