When Children Won't Eat
What's a parent do when a child won't eat? There are several options available, but I'm not interested in teaching you how to get your kids to eat. I'm interested in telling you what God does when His children won't eat. That's what our text is about. It begins with, "At this time the Jews began to grumble because Jesus said, I am the Bread of Heaven.'" The Jews are the Children of Israel, and they wouldn't eat.
They refused to eat Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, because of His earthly origins. They knew Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary. They knew Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. They knew Nazareth wasn't heaven. He wasn't from heaven at all but earth, and not a particularly nice place on earth at that. It was pretty much out of the way. In fact, when Jesus started His public ministry He moved from that backwater town to the city where our text takes place: Capernaum. Above the door of this synagogue rather than the usual symbol of a 7 branched candlestick or a Passover lamb was the symbol for manna, the Old Testament bread from heaven (Edersheim, Life and Times, I, 366).
Jesus speaks of Himself as the Bread of heaven, but they aren't eating because of Jesus' earthy origins and their erring faith. They ask, "How can He now say, I came down from heaven?'" Angels are from heaven, but they're not from earth too. Man is from earth but he's not from heaven. God is from heaven but not from earth. Jesus, who never denies He was born of Mary and had human flesh and blood, claims He is from heaven too. This they reject.
Before you think this isn't your problem, think again. A remark from a Luther sermon on this text will show you it is. He says, "Thus when you hear a sermon by St. Paul or by me, you hear God the Father Himself" (LW, 23, 91). When you hear a sermon by me do you think you're hearing God the Father Himself? If not you're in company with the non-eating Jews. The Jews didn't think they were hearing God the Father when Jesus spoke because they knew where Jesus was from. So they didn't dine on His words.
What does God do when His children won't eat? He puts their gaunt bodies before their eyes. Evidently there was a mixed reaction in the crowd. Some believed; some didn't. When this word for "grumble" is used in John 7 it's used of people who believed on Jesus. There's an argument between people going on. Jesus says, "Stop grumbling with one another." Why? Because the only way anyone gets to Jesus is by the Father dragging them. If you're not dining on Jesus it's because the Father hasn't dragged you to this point. Jesus explains this clearly, "Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me." If you haven't come to Me, it's because you haven't learned or listened to the Father.
I think I know where you're tripping. It's the insert's translation, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him." You have images of the Savior softly, gently calling sinners. You have images of being enticed, invited, schmoozed into coming to Jesus by relationships, by community, by having your felt needs met. But the word is not "draw"; it's "dragged." There is a Greek word that means "draw," but it's never used of Jesus attracting sinners. The word used here is for dragging a dead weight. When Peter in John 21 drags the net full of fish ashore, this is the word used.
Don't grumble with someone because he sees no value in dining on Jesus; don't grumble with him for refusing to eat. He can't help it; He isn't being dragged by the Father, but that also means he won't be raised to life on the Last Day. Only those dragged by the Father are raised to life by Jesus on the Last Day. The rest are raised as the living dead. Jesus holds this bleak picture before them and says, "This is what you are if you won't eat of Me."
You know how fun-house mirrors distort everything? In a Seinfeld episode Elaine says a particular women's clothing store has mirrors that make you look much better than you do to get you to buy clothes you otherwise wouldn't. Well the mirrors the Devil, the world, and your own self hold up to you when you're not eating the Bread of Heaven are like that. They make you look healthy, vibrant, strong. In this text, Jesus shows you what you really look like: Unraised. Your best day on earth will be the best it will ever be for you. From your last day on it can only get worse.
It sure didn't look or feel like it was a big deal to reject the Jesus whose father and mother they knew. It didn't look or feel like it was a big deal to miss the preaching and teaching of Jesus. It didn't feel like they were missing anything worth eating. So Jesus holds up a mirror to show their true state. By rejecting Jesus, His preaching or teaching, they don't even see God let alone are they being taught by Him.
A Catholic priest said recently that when he entered the priesthood he thought people would be coming to him asking him what God thinks of this or that, but he found most came telling him what God wants. "God wants me to be happy." "God wants me to follow these desires or He wouldn't give them to me." This has been my experience too. Most people believe they know exactly what God thinks. But Jesus tells us that no one sees the true God or knows what He thinks apart from Him. All the plans, all our ideas, all our wishes, wants, and opinions formed apart from Jesus are outside of God; lead away from God; and don't end in life.
When children won't eat, not that they can't but won't, what's a parent to do? What does a sinful parent do in such a situation? Feed them anyway, and this is what Jesus does too. After He holds up the mirror of God's holy Law showing those who refused to eat how gaunt, sickly, and doomed they are, He sets more food on the table. Jesus says, "Despite of how you've scorned the Bread of Life and turned up your noses at My teaching and preaching, I see all they way into heaven, and I tell you the Father hasn't ceased dragging, teaching, or feeding sinners."
Don't believe Him? A few short years after Jesus speaks, the Father will drag the murderous Paul into the Church, and if Paul can be dragged in there is no sinner so hardened that he can't be moved too. Likewise, the Gospels are only the beginning of the preaching and teaching of Jesus, says Acts 1. Acts continues to record Jesus' preaching and teaching though His Church and that continues right down to our day. The prophet Amos said a sure sign of God's judgment wasn't a lack of rain or food but a lack of the preaching and teaching of the Word of the Lord. That hasn't yet happened. The Word is still going out and everyone who listens and learns from the Father is still being dragged to Jesus.
When His children won't eat, the Father continues to try and feed them His Son. Only by eating of Him does anyone live forever. Think about it. If the food brought by an angel was enough to give life to Elijah for a 40 days and nights journey to the mountain of God, I think the Body and Blood of God the Son can give you enough life for any journey you need to make or any mountain you need to climb.
How come? How come His flesh can do what yours can't? Because your flesh is only from your mother and father. They could impart to you no more of life than they got from their parents. And as we heard last week, the life they did get was infected with death. Jesus got His flesh and blood from the womb of the Virgin Mary, but He got His life from being the Second Person of the Trinity. Having lived and reigned from eternity as God the Son, He was not just alive but Life. But the fact that He wasn't only alive but Life itself isn't as important as what He did with that life.
Last week Jesus told these slow to eat children, "The Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." This week we have a Gospel advance. Jesus says, "This is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." That word "for" is very important. As we talked about in the Hebrews Bible class, it means more than "for." It means "instead of," "in place of," "in behalf of." Last week we were told Jesus gives life to the world which is a statement of God's Providence. This week we're told He gives His life instead of the world which is a statement of Redemption.
The whole world had forfeited its life. Every last man, woman, and child has given up his or her claim to life because they have violated God's Holy Laws. God had not only written it in stone but in all of our hearts that His holy Laws must be kept perfectly. Keeping them perfectly we could live forever. Break even one and there would be hell to pay. We didn't break just one but all, so now not only is the Law demanding perfection hanging over our heads our debt is too. All we have to do is pay that debt and never, ever sin again. Can you do that?
Jesus could and Jesus did. Being true God, He was free of our sinfulness from birth and in life. Never once sinning, He fulfilled the Law and removed it from hanging over our heads. Being truly human, He could be the perfect human sacrifice to satisfy God's wrath against us sinners. Being truly God, He could satisfy God. And He did. He came down from heaven to enter our flesh so to raise this flesh to heaven. We partake of this salvation when we feed on Him whether by eating up His Words of forgiveness with our ears, drinking in His Waters of promise with our bodies, or eating His Body and drinking His Blood with our mouths.
In a sermon on this text, Luther said that the 12th century Muslim scholar, Averroes, "wrote that no other people on earth were as stupid, ungodly, and senseless as the Christians. For all other people taught and said that God should be honored and borne on loving arms; we [Christians] on the other hand, teach, that our God should be eaten" (LW, 53, 99). Bon appetite! Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20090823); John 6: 41-51