23 August 2015

John 6:56-69

“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.’” (vv. 68-69)

Psalm: Psalm 103


These are the final verses of a long chapter in John's Gospel. It starts with an account of the feeding of a great crowd on the shore of Lake Galilee (John 6:1-15). This story is recorded by all the Gospel writers, but John gives it a spiritual dimension. This is not just about feeding the physically hungry, it is about offering spiritual food.

Note possible flashpoints here - there were crowds of people; they wanted to make Jesus their king (verse 15); the people made strenuous efforts to find him after he has crossed the lake and, when they found him, they engaged him in theological debate, as did the Jewish authorities.

Notice, too, the twists and turns of the argument as different questions are met with answers which are always given on a different level: physical needs are one thing, spiritual realities are another (verses 26-27).

Perhaps some of us are so familiar with these words that we do not recognise the shock which Jesus' audience must have experienced when he spoke to them about eating his flesh and drinking his blood (verse 54). For the Jewish person, this was an appalling thought: the Hebrew scriptures expressly forbade eating the blood of any living thing (cf Deuteronomy 12:23), and to eat human flesh was regarded part of a divine curse (Leviticus 26:29).

No wonder that the disciples, faced with a scandalised crowd and antagonistic authorities, grumbled that this was all too difficult to understand and to accept; for some of them, it was just too much (verse 66).

Peter is often remembered as the one, who, under pressure, denied Jesus (John 18:15-27). Here, however, under considerable social and religious pressure, he was the one who recognised what is being said as deep spiritual truth. His is an eternal question, 'Lord, to whom can we go?'

To Ponder

  • How do you take on board new spiritual insights, even when they seem to be expressed in language which sounds offensive?
  • Peter showed great courage in the face of angry religious authorities - think about times when you may have found yourself at odds with what the Church appeared to be saying about any given issue.

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.