My parents tried to elevate my taste, truly they did, and they mostly succeeded pretty well. In some things, however, I remain staunchly middlebrow. My taste in music, for instance, tends closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd then it does to Mahler, and I am a huge fan of the movies of Will Ferrell.
Ferrell’s movie Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby contains a scene in which the titular character is saying grace, and insists upon praying to baby Jesus. His wife reminds him that Jesus didn’t remain a baby, but grew up to be a man, and he responds, “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I'm sayin' grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”
There is, it seems, no end to Christians’ desire to remake Jesus into someone that they find more palatable than the incarnate God who actually showed up in history. Certainly we wish to render him more intellectual plausible than the mystery which he, in fact, was. In 2009, John E. Smith invited readers of Homily Service to receive God’s self-gift in Jesus Christ without trying to tailor it to their own liking.
The point of the text, and in many ways of John’s Gospel, remains: Can you believe it? Can you receive and eat whom God has provided? “I am the bread of life. Feast on me.” Crucial here is the understanding that God provides, and it is Jesus. Believing requires a tangible humility and receiving, eating, as the nourishment of eternal life. God provides it.
But what does God provide? Jesus then escalates the conversation with a direct reference to his passion, death, and resurrection: “...and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v 51b) It is the reality of his flesh and blood that must be ingested, digested, converted to life-giving energy and faithful living. The important invitation here is not just to Jesus’ self-giving as atoning sacrifice and freedom, but an invitation to his sanctifying way and new life. The sign is eating and drinking as continual abiding in Christ (v 56), a life lived in him.
The conversation in today’s lesson ends with the disciples, many of whom find this saying too hard, beginning to fall away: “But among you there are some who do not believe” (v 64).
What’s the hardest thing about Jesus for you to believe/accept/eat?
John E. Smith. Homily Service 42:3, 136-137.
John E. Smith is a United Methodist pastor.
Oh, and here is Ricky Bobby saying grace to baby Jesus. Don't click on it if you are easily offended.