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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Jesus Offends Our Emotions - 08/19/2018

Well here’s something to think about in this long Bread Discourse we get from John this year of the lectionary.

Jesus’ teaching is inflammatory. It grabs our attention and we cannot help but feel a reaction to it. It appears to be intentionally shocking and designed to elicit a pretty specific kind of human emotion.

As I was writing this, I was trying to decide which human emotion it felt like Jesus was tapping into. Disgust was the first thing that came to mind. I actually said it out loud as I was studying some word choices in chapter six. “That’s disgusting, Jesus,” I said when I got to one point.

But it seemed more than just disgust to me somehow. So I stumbled across a little information on the work of this guy named Paul Ekman. He’s an American psychologist, associated with University of California, San Francisco, and well-known for his study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. Interesting stuff.

Anyway, he classifies six basic human emotions. Now, I’m sure there’s lots of other opinions on something as complex as human emotion, but our objective here is to get to deeper understanding of what Jesus is doing, what we are to learn from him, so six basic emotions seemed like a good place to start.

So Ekman’s research findings led him to classify six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.

I think you can argue that Jesus potentially hits all but one of these emotions in this teaching. I felt disgust. Someone else might feel angry at what Jesus is saying here. His illustrations could easily make another hearer feel fear, that instinctual impulse to remove yourself from a situation. I think you can include sadness too … I’m pretty sure that’s what some of the people who ultimately decided to stop following Jesus by the end of this chapter felt. And surprise … well, I think this teaching has the ability to surprise all of us at some point, in some way.

So this teaching can make us feel all the feels, except happiness. Hmmm. That’s curious.

I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume there must be something else going on here, unless we’re willing to accept that Jesus doesn’t want us to feel happiness – but not likely, right?

And you also may, at this point, be wondering why I’m getting into all this without even specifying what exactly Jesus is doing in this teaching that might bring about these emotions of anger, disgust, fear, sadness and surprise.

Well I’ve done this on purpose, because I think it’s worth noting, that whatever it is we get out of this teaching, Jesus really wants it to stick. If Jesus is intentionally stirring up five of six basic human emotions, then I do think he really means to get our attention. He implies this pretty strongly in part of the teaching we’ll hear next week. 

“Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, ‘This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?’ When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, ‘Does this cause you to be offended?’” (John 6:60-61)

That’s a rhetorical question. Jesus knows he offended and he knows he meant to.

So how does Jesus offend? How does he so deeply jar us and get our attention?

Well, most obvious perhaps is that some people may draw conclusions that what Jesus is saying here sounds a little cannibalistic, especially when he moves from his mystical idea of being the “Bread of Life” to actually saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)

That statement draws out some of these emotions – that would draw this attention Jesus is seeking from us.

The Jewish Leaders who oppose Jesus in John’s Gospel are already feeling these emotions – they are murmuring among themselves “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  (6.52b)

And there’s even more going on here than is apparent in the English translation. In response to the Jewish Leaders’ murmurings, Jesus ramps it up again – he is going beyond out of his way to get their attention – and ours.

We find it in Jesus’ word choice.

Up to this point, Jesus has been using the world esthio where we read “eat” or “ate.” It’s the word he uses in the story of feeding the five thousand or when he refers to Moses and when the Hebrews ate the manna in the wilderness, and even today when he says “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” (6.51b)

This word esthio means just what we read translated, to eat, to take food into our selves, just as we do on a day-to-day basis.

And what Jesus is saying here about eating the bread and drinking the wine, and understanding it as his flesh and blood informs the way we understand the elements of our Holy Communion table.

In hearing Jesus say “I am the Bread of Life” we remember our belief that Jesus is truly present in the bread and wine – even though we cannot wrap our human minds around how that happens.

Regardless, it is what we profess and essential to the lives we lead as followers of Jesus, who through the Holy Communion table abide in Christ Jesus and Christ Jesus in us. People who through communion continually imagine ourselves refreshed and renewed, nourished and forgiven. People who are fed to go back out into the world and live this counter-cultural life we ascribe to in which we worship God alone and care especially for the least among us.

But the Jewish Leaders got stuck in a literal understanding of what Jesus is saying and completely missed what Jesus is trying to explain about that counter-cultural life we recognize in the bread and wine today.

And Jesus’ response to the Jewish Leaders is to tap into that emotional response even more deeply – he turns it up to 11 – when instead of using esthio, the common everyday word for eating, he starts using the word trogo – which doesn’t simply mean “eat,” but rather to eat by gnawing and crunching. To crush. This is intentionally meant to be a morbid, excessively jarring and disturbing image when Jesus says to the Jewish leaders “Those who trogo my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day…” (6.54)

And this is where I think it gets really interesting.

Think about who Jesus is talking to here. There are a lot of ears around him – the people who will decide not to follow and others who will not be able to get past a very literal idea of what Jesus says here. And also the disciples who will continue to follow. And also the one who will betray him. And also us. But his response here is intended for the Jewish Leaders specifically.

The ones who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah and threaten to ex-communicate or put out of community anyone who does.

The ones who will have a direct hand in the way Jesus’ human form will indeed be crushed on the cross.

And yet, Jesus is still trying to get their attention too, because he is prepared to offer his flesh up as “life for the world” – including them, those who will violently devour him, along with those who like us who come humbly and politely to Holy Communion to receive the Bread of Life from heaven.

This says a lot about who God intends to feed with the Bread and Wine of Eternal Life promised in Jesus’ teaching – it’s everyone we can imagine and then all those we cannot. It is offered by Jesus without reservation, no matter how far from belief someone may seem to others … or themselves.

It brings us back to other points Jesus has made in this bread discourse like “… the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6.33) “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6.35) “Whoever believes has eternal life.” (6.47) Nothing is excluded from this salvation.

And so perhaps that’s why Jesus ramps up his response to his enemies’ literal take on what he is saying, their inability, as of yet anyway, to really understand, to come to believe, because they matter too. It’s important that what he is trying to teach here sticks with them too and gets their attention. It is important that Jesus invites them to understand what God means for us in Jesus, that they are also drawn in by God to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of Humanity given for us.

And if God in Jesus is willing to do all this for those who would crush his human form, what won’t God do to break into your life and bring you more fully into belief? Where in our lives does Jesus offend and then ramp it up to open our eyes and our hearts and deepen our experience as his followers?

Where in our own lives, at Eden, in the community, in our families, do we need to really hear those words? ... “This is the body of Christ crushed and given for you.” “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” 


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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