Is That Kosher?
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 6:51–6:59
A sermon delivered at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
By the Rev. Dr. B. F. Nass, Pastor Emeritus
“IS THAT KOSHER?”
Dear Members and Welcome Guests of St. John’s Lutheran Church:
It’s a refreshing experience for me to be with you today in the capacity of being in the same pulpit from which I retired six years ago this very month. Under normal circumstances Pastor Campbell would be preaching today. However. this week his attention is fully occupied in planning a multitude of final details for another event which is scheduled to take place in the context of this coming Saturday’s Vesper worship at 4:00 PM and you are invited to share in the celebration when he joins his lovely fiancée, Leslie, in the estate of holy matrimony here in this sanctuary. Without question, I express the sentiments of each of you to them when I wish God’s richest blessings for their future together.
Oh, lest I fail to mention, food will be served following that worship celebration in the Fellowship Hall. It may not be the feeding of the 5000, but hopefully it will also be reminder of Him who is the bread of life. That is a sneaky way of getting into the subject of our text which for the third week in a row is the “I am the bread of life,” discourse of Jesus in John chapter 6. If you participated in worship here the past two weeks, you may be wondering if maybe the needle got stuck or if there is anything else left to learn. I assure you there is and invite your curiosity to discover what that might be under the theme, “Is that Kosher?”
Now that the Olympics are over and Labor Day is looming, the election campaigns are dominating the airways. Living in what is considered to be a “battle ground” state like Virginia, we are especially subjected to a plethora of T. V. ads, robo-calls, and media propaganda ad infinitum. At our house, we’ve already worn out the mute button on one remote. Each party is carefully monitoring what the other candidate says in the hopes of pouncing on some gaff, a “you didn’t build it,” or “London may not be prepared,” or “chained,” which they can use to discredit the other candidate and try to derail his entire campaign to defeat.
Well, such is the case today with God’s candidate Jesus. Following the miraculous feeding of the 5000, Jesus uses that event to move his hearers from the physical need for frequent and repetitious eating of food to sustain physical life (which ultimately fails), and elevates it to a faith level describing himself as real food that gives eternal life. Maybe if he had just left it there, the spin on those words could be softened and accepted if taken figuratively.
But no!!! He goes on in vivid and graphic language: “And the bread that I shall give is my own flesh for the life of the world.” “That’s the most ridiculous, impossible, and revolting claim we’ve ever heard,” is the reaction of his shocked hearers and probably would have been ours as well, were we in that time and culture. But Jesus is insistent. “Let me firmly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood, real drink. The one who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
I can imagine that at this point there must have been a hushed silence that day in the synagogue at Capernaum. The silence is finally broken by the growing, grumbling protests of a stunned audience summarized in our text as “This teaching is offensive. It’s impossible for anyone to do that. How barbaric! How grotesque! It certainly isn’t kosher.” There is almost a stampede for the door as people try to get as far away as possible from this lunatic, Jesus, and his crazy ranting, leaving him all alone with the twelve. His whole campaign seemed derailed.
Perhaps even these disciples were also thinking, “What a gaff!” Jesus grew up knowing about the laws of keeping kosher. The drinking of blood was considered as an horrendous act forbidden by God’s law. The Hebrew concept was that what they called Nephesh -- the principle that caused life to exist -- was in the blood. Stands to reason, doesn’t it, because when you remove all the blood, death occurs. Therefore, before any flesh or bashar in Hebrew could be eaten, it first had to be made “clean” for which the Hebrew word is “kosher.” That means every iota of blood had to be removed before any flesh was fit for human consumption. What Jesus is advocating is just the opposite. If you think proposing the changing of the Medicare system for senior citizens causes a stir today, it is nothing compared to advocating gnawing on human flesh and non-kosher at that to a Jewish audience of that day or any day.. So what about us? Jesus’ question, “Do you also wish to go away?” applies to us as well. But before we vote with our feet, let’s take a closer look at what John through Jesus is telling us.
Imagine, if you can, that John 6 is a three layered cake. Each layer has its own application and each layer leads to the next which is why it takes three weeks to digest. Today’s section is that top or third layer. Looking just at that layer there are two impressive indications that John is referring to the Lord’s Supper, to the Eucharist. Three weeks ago when Pastor Meehan introduced this text from John 6 he mentioned there is disagreement among biblical scholars as to whether these words refer to the Lord’s Supper and mentioned that even Martin Luther did not think they did. But this third layer – verses 51-58 – cannot simply be a metaphor for accepting Jesus’ teaching.
The stress on eating flesh appears elsewhere in the Bible as a hostile action. Thus, if Jesus’ words are to have a favorable meaning, they must refer to something else and the best candidate is the Eucharist. In fact, they simply reproduce the words we hear in the Matthew’s account of the institution of the Eucharist: “Take, eat; this is my body; . . .drink…this is my blood. Additionally, linguists tell us that there really is no Hebrew or Aramaic word equivalent for “body,” as we know it. So, if Jesus spoke Aramaic when he instituted the Lord’ Supper at another Passover celebration, his words would be: “This is my flesh. This is my blood.” The eyes of the disciples must have popped opened wide in remembering what Jesus had said back there in the Synagogue at Capernaum.
Now let’s put it all together. Grounded then in the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus in the tearing of his flesh and the shedding of his blood on the cross to give life to the world, we conclude that through our participation and receiving of the real and present flesh and blood of that sacrifice through the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we receive the gift that redemptive act gives -- forgiveness and eternal life with Him. Paul says this clearly to the Corinthians when he writes: “1CO 10:16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? What a thrilling promise. And it’s kosher.
Dear Saints of St. John’s: This concludes our three part treatment on Jesus as the bread of life on the various levels in John 6. We been have been amply nourished and fed. Word and Sacrament remain our faith menu. May our answer to Jesus question always be that of Peter as together we say: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Amen