Today’s reading is John 6:60-71 (NIV):
Many Disciples Desert Jesus.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Move over Tolstoy and take your cyclical history junk with you, ‘cause I have the best story about the Battle of Waterloo. Mind you, I am not a historian, and unlike Tolstoy, I make no promises that this wonderful anecdote is at all inspired by actual events at the Battle of Waterloo, only that it is the most British thing that has ever been said. Ever. Legend holds that two British officers, the Lord of Uxbridge and the Duke of Wellington, were firing out of a trench when a shell hit the far side of the trench, amputating the leg of Uxbridge but leaving Wellington unscathed.
“By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!” said Uxbridge.
“By God, sir, so you have!” Wellington replied.
Presumably, these two sought proper medical attention for the injured leg and a proper lunch of cold boiled beef tongue or jam and sponge cake or whatever 19th century British soldiers ate while ignoring the gore of musket warfare.
I said that this was the most British thing ever said, and while I still believe that it justly claims that title, the disciples comment here does give it a run for its money.
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” they say, perhaps while eating whatever the first century equivalent of jam and sponge cake was.
To first century Israelites, this teaching was a 180 degree turn. How were they to eat a body and be blessed, when touching corpses made one unclean before God (Numbers 19:11)? And how were they to drink blood if the first rule of eating any living creature is that the blood belongs to the Lord (Genesis 9:4)? The teaching was disgusting and odd and impossible, even if these 30 AD Lord Uxbridges don’t show it.
Even in a modern century, this teaching is much more than hard. “Eat my body and drink my blood?” “Live forever?” “The flesh counts for nothing?” I believe I can speak for most modern Christians when I say I have little idea what this particularly means. I can (and do) argue about the details and implications of transubstantiation and consubstantiation and faithfulness with Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters until the cows come home, but in the end, I have to admit that I can never really prove that this is what the teaching means beyond the shadow of a doubt. Give me a break, this teaching is hard.
So, because I cannot perfectly understand it, do I not believe in what Christ says here? Do I reject the flesh of Christ and hope that the flesh counts for something? Do I desert Jesus like the many disciples?
Absolutely not. Or at least, I try to absolutely not believe any of these things. I aspire to be Peter saying to Christ without hesitation: “[I] have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Although sometimes, I admit, I end up being more like Judas.
Tess Fitzsimmons ’19 is a Sophomore in Lowell House studying History and Literature.