As I noted yesterday, in Sunday’s Gospel lesson we hear that even Jesus’ disciples were having a hard time with his teaching on the Bread of Life. “This teaching is difficult,” they lament, “who can accept it?” Jesus is fully aware that what he is teaching is hard to grasp: John even tells us that Jesus knew from the beginning who would be able to accept it and who wouldn’t. It is the response of Jesus, which, as usual, brings us short.
“Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”
Remember that in John’s Gospel not only is there no institution of the Eucharist, but there is also no ascension into heaven. Yet more than once, Jesus foreshadows an ascension. Scholars are quick to suggest that for John, the moment of ascension, when Jesus is lifted up, isn’t as he rides a cloud into heaven, but when his cross is lifted into the air on the hill called Golgotha. Talk about offensive!
Jesus is keenly aware that things are only going to get more offensive as the years wear on. This teaching about bread and wine and flesh and blood is nothing compared to what will happen on a Friday later called “Good.” As Jesus ascends to his rightful place, his teaching will move from difficult to damn near impossible to accept. Even his closest disciple, the one who says “where else would we go?” will turn away and hide, unable to accept what it means that Jesus is the King of kings.
Lent, Holy Week, and Easter are a long way away, but as the calendar turns toward fall and the second half of the Season of Pentecost approaches, we will hear more and more about the crucifixion. We’ll find the disciples, even the 12, having a harder and harder time accepting what Jesus is teaching. We’ll be reminded again and again that Jesus isn’t inviting us into a faith that is easy or simple, but rather, we are invited to follow Jesus through the most difficult parts of life. He’s been there, in the depths of human depravity – hanging fully offensive naked and bleeding on a cross – even as he was lifted up to his rightful place on the throne of heaven. Yeah, I guess all that is pretty offensive.