23 April 2010

John 6:52-59

"But the one who eats this bread will live forever." (v.58)


John wrote his Gospel many years after the death of Jesus. It is widely believed by scholars that it was written in the early 2nd century AD, when the growing group of believers had had time to reflect on the events of Jesus' life and their meaning. One of the central rituals of the early Church involved the sharing of a meal and remembering the words of Jesus to reinforce their life of faith (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-27).

The words from today's passage would be used in this ritual. Some of the early detractors of the Christian Church accused Christians of cannibalism. If these words were literally true you could see how such an accusation could arise. The words though, along with much of John's Gospel, are meant to be understood symbolically. But even though the passage has a symbolic meaning, the nature of the illustration would be offensive to a Jewish audience. Yet the mystical understanding of being made one with Jesus is something that carries immense power and possibility. It opens the door to a radically new and different way of relating to God.

This passage reinforces the understanding that faith in Jesus is necessary to share in a relationship with God, which is qualitatively different to any other way of talking about, or being with God. It reinforces the view that only through faith in Jesus Christ is it possible to have the fullest possible relationship with God. This has the potential to cause conflict with other religions, and in some instances has done. Christians have been accused of saying they are right and all others are wrong, because faith in Jesus is presented as the only way to have a full relationship with God. The strong contrast of life and death, along with the contrast of past and present, lends itself to this type of understanding.

To Ponder

What are the important rituals in your life?

In a diverse and complicated world when can dogmatic belief be of help?

When does an adversarial approach to life become counterproductive?

Bible notes author

The Revd Malcolm Peacock

Revd Malcolm Peacock is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Isle of Man District and superintendent of the Isle of Man Circuit. He has a deep and abiding interest in Celtic Spirituality and how the early Church in Britain interacted with local communities.