“Purity of Commitment”
August 26, 2018
The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua 24: 1-2; 14-15
Psalm 84: 5-12
John 6: 56 – 69
Fr. Gary Thurman
I would like to read the last paragraph of the book entitled Gulliver’s Travels, “But the Houyhnhnms, who live under the government of reason, are no more proud of the good qualities they possess, than I should be for not wanting a leg or an arm, which no man in his wits would boast of, although he must be miserable without them. I dwell the longer upon this subject from the desire I have to make the society of an English Yahoo by any means not insupportable; and therefore I here entreat those who have any tincture of this absurd vice, that they will not presume to come in my sight.” Did you get the spiritual insight of this passage? I don’t think so, because to get the meaning of the last paragraph, you need to read the whole book.
I did this to illustrate something about the Gospel of John, chapter 6. If we just read the last portion, our gospel reading for today, without reading the rest of the chapter, it may seem impossible to understand. To get “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him”, we need to recall the gospels for the last four Sundays, when Jesus spoke to the people using the imagery of food. He told them, “If you are looking for natural food, you will perish.” He explained to them the metaphor that He Himself should be food to them. Food is one of man’s greatest desires, and as you desire food for your very life, He should be your desire. Not only should He be our desire, but the things that He desires for us, we should also embrace as our desire. Don’t work for the food that perishes because there is a better food. This food is His desire for us. When we understand these principles, the early verses of John chapter 6 begin to open up for us.
Jesus explains what it means when He says, “I am the Bread of life.” He is saying, “I am your sustenance. You live and move and have your very being in Me. My will is what will give you life. When you follow My plan and My will for you, it will make your whole existence come alive.” He says, “I am the Bread of life. Eat of My flesh.” Bread at that time and place was the staple food, the most important part of a meal. Bread was the main source of nutrition, and this is why Jesus says, “I am the Bread of life.”
Jesus introduces this metaphor. Not only is He the Bread of life that came down from heaven to give life to the world, He also says, “Once you eat of Me, once you partake of My body, you will live forever and you will never hunger and thirst.” He is simply saying, “Lay aside your own will, and accept the will of God in your lives, and you will have life abundantly.”
Jesus introduces and explains this metaphor, then He goes to say, "I am not only the Bread of life that gives life to the world, but once you eat of Me, once you partake of My body, you will live forever. You will never hunger; you will never thirst.” Then He adds to eating His flesh the concept of drinking His blood. Why did Jesus say this? He is referring to Leviticus 17:11, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood." When Jesus says, "Partake of Me, and I give you life," it literally says, "Drink My blood for this is My life. Life is in My blood." In John 5:21, it says, "The Son gives life to whom He wishes." In telling us that He gives life to us, He refers to this Scripture, saying, "Partake of My blood because life is in My blood. When you partake of My blood, you partake of My life." In Leviticus 17:14, it says, "As for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life." For all flesh includes Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ is the Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us. When Moses said, "For all flesh," he is talking about Christ. Christ's blood is identified with His life. When He says, "Drink My blood," He is saying, "Partake of My life," This is where life is - in Jesus' blood. Jesus dwells with us when we partake of His body and blood.
In verse 56, Jesus says, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me," and in verse 58, "This is the bread which came down out of heaven...he who eats this bread shall live forever." He tells us, "Partake of Me. I am the bread of life." He gives us sustenance. He is telling us, "Let Me be your all in all. Let Me be your life. Partake of My blood, and you will have true abundant life -- eternal life forever."
So that’s the end of Jesus’ sermon on Him being the Bread of heaven, and how we partake of His life when we partake of His body and blood. Now, starting from verse 60, the story changes. Jesus now gives an answer to their question expressed in verse 52, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" Jesus explains it to them in verses 61-62, "Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Why is Jesus now saying the flesh profits nothing, whereas for the previous 30 verses He has been saying, “Eat My flesh, it will give you life”? It seems like He was contradicting Himself. But we must understand, His focused has changed. His sermon is now a different sermon. All that He was saying previously about His flesh being true food is all true. But now, He is explaining how He can give them His flesh to eat.
The key here is in verse 62 where He says, "What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?" He was prophetically speaking of His ascension. Let me ask you a question: When Jesus ascended to the Father, what was His body like? What body ascended? Was it the same body which was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, that walked to the hills of Galilee? Or was it the body that rose in resurrection power from the tomb on the third day after His crucifixion? 1 Corinthians 15:39 says, "All flesh is not the same." The body that Jesus ascended with is the same body that came forth from the womb of Mary, but the flesh was different. It had been moved upon by the resurrection power of God. The Father raised Him from the dead, and in so doing, He transformed that flesh of Jesus Christ. The flesh that Jesus had before He was resurrected is different from the flesh afterHe resurrected.
Continuing in 1 Corinthians 15:42, it says, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body." The body of Jesus was perishable because it died, but the divinity of Christ did not die. The two candles in the Altar Table show the two nature of Christ - His human nature and the Divine nature. His human nature perished on the cross, for it was housed in a perishable body. Verse 42 continues, "...it is raised an imperishable body." The body that was raised on the third day will never die again. It is a changed body because of the resurrection power of God. All flesh is not the same. Verse 43, "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory." His body was sown in dishonor into the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, in Pilate’s judgment hall, and at Calvary. When Christ rose on the third day, it ascended in glory. "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." On the Via Dolorosa, Jesus’ way to Calvary, He fell three times showing the weakness of His body, a human body. But it was not weak anymore once it was raised in power.
Verse 44, "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." For 33 years Jesus' body was a natural body. When He was raised from the dead, it was elevated to a spiritual body. Sometimes, we think that natural is something that we can see and spiritual is something that we cannot see, and that natural is all bad whereas spiritual is all good. Such dogmatic distinctions do not exist at this time. Ephesians 6: 12 talks about the forces and rulers of wickedness in the spiritual places. The distinctions between the two are more subtle.
Christ’s spiritual body that was raised is a body that can move between the natural dimension and the spiritual dimension - between the natural world and the spiritual world. There is the spiritual realm that our spirits can sense, but our natural bodies can’t see. We see in the gospels after the Resurrection, how Jesus could do things then that He couldn’t do before He was resurrected. When all the doors and windows were locked, Jesus' spiritual body appeared in the midst of His disciples. His natural body of before could not do this. His resurrected spiritual body could relate to the natural world, but it was not limited to it. Jesus could eat fish with His disciples, He could make a campfire by the beach. He could act like His disciples, but He could also go beyond. He literally ascended into heaven, transcending the natural law of gravity. This is the body that rose again.
In verse 44, "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." This is what Jesus possesses, although He is still human. It may be a body like ours, but it has been transformed into a higher realm that can transcend and dwell in the spirit world. Verse 45, "So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam (which is Christ) became a life-giving spirit.'"
Verse 46-47, "However, the spiritual is not the first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthly; the second man is from heaven." What makes us say that Adam was a natural man, an earthly man? In the Garden, Adam had a choice. God desired him to eat from the fruit of the tree of life, not from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil. This is the same desire that Jesus was talking about in John 6. Adam said, "Lord, I have a desire, too. I really like the looks of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That fruit looks good for food. It smells good, and I want it Lord! This is my desire." Adam went to the natural instead of the spiritual. He went to his own desire instead of God's desires. This is why the Bible says that he is a natural man; he is earthly; he is so of the world.
On the other hand, Jesus, in confrontation with His own desires said, "Lord, I have been thinking of this whole crucifixion and passion thing. It is not really something that I am sold on. I would like to avoid it, if I could. Crucifixion would be painful. People will be mocking and spitting at Me. They will thrust a spear in My side. I will be given thirty-nine lashes. I will have a crown of thorns on My head. They will nail Me on the cross. My desire is to skip this part, but I know in My heart, Lord, what Your desire is for Me. Lord, not My will, but Your will be done." This is a spiritual man. This is the same thing that Jesus is preaching in John 6 - you receive life; you receive joy; you receive eternal life, and everything that God has for you, when you say, "Not my will, but yours be done," and make His will your desire, your food. This makes you a spiritual man.
This is also what St. Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians. The spiritual man, the second man, said "yes" to God instead of His own desire. The natural man, the earthly man, Adam, said, "God, You've got Your plan; I’ve got mine; and I will do mine." What was the cost? Adam died. He shouldn’t have died; we wouldn’t have died, if he had followed God's desire. Verse 49 says, "And just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." There are times that we demand our own way, but St. Paul promises that although we have the image of Adam, the earthly body that will die, we will also bear the spiritual body of Christ. We will be transformed; we will be changed.
The natural body of Christ, in which He was born into the world, had a different form than His body after it was resurrected, His spiritual body. He walked down the road of Emmaus and the two men who had known Him for years did not recognize Him; neither His form nor His voice. His spiritual body has some ability to avoid detection, when He so desires. It is the same body, but was elevated by the resurrection power of God.
So in answer to the question, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Jesus says, "The flesh profits nothing for the spirit gives life." What Jesus is saying is, "You will not partake of this fleshly body that you see now. You are not partaking of the natural body because that doesn't profit anything. But you will partake of My spiritual body, which I will receive when I am resurrected, and it will give you life." What will profit us is the spiritual body that gives life. It is flesh raised to a higher dimension. It is flesh raised to the level of resurrection. This is what we are to partake of. This is how we partake of the body of Christ. It will profit much. It will give us life.
Our natural bodies come to the Table and our natural bodies will receive bread and wine. Our natural bodies which have not been resurrected yet (because we have yet died) will see with our natural eyes bread and wine. Our physical bodies will partake of and digest bread and wine. 1 Corinthians 15:50 says, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." If we are talking about the Table of the Lord, we are talking about the foretaste of the kingdom of God that flesh and blood cannot partake of or inherit, but we are not just flesh and blood. We are spirit also, and our spirits have been resurrected. This is what happened when we were baptized. We were born again. The Spirit is giving us life, and that spiritual part of you, which lives forever, is not going to partake of bread and wine, but the spiritual body and blood of Christ; His heavenly, spiritual, body and blood. His resurrected body.
John 6 is a chapter of God's desires for us, and us making His desires, our desires. It is also a chapter of believing, from verse 29 when Jesus says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent", from verse 64 when He says “There are some of you who do not believe”, to verse 69 when Peter said, "Lord, we believe that You are the Holy One of God." Belief is an important element of our receiving, of understanding that Jesus comes to us in the Table as His body and blood, and believing what Jesus said in the Upper Room, "This bread is My body. This cup is My blood."
The work of God for us is to simply believe. When we believe God's Word, and we partake of His body and blood, we live and move and have our being in Him, and we have life. Having spent one month of understanding John 6, as the Church does every three years, we see what is going on at the Table and what happens when our natural bodies come to the Table. We should be like Joshua saying, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," and as Joshua, embrace God’s desires for us. Let us understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Sustenance that gives everything. As Joshua encouraged us to serve God, so Christ encourages us to believe Him, to follow Him, and to partake of Him, to receive Him with faith and gladness, knowing that this is life for the world.