A Hard Teaching & Burning Hearts
“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.” That visceral word picture capped a message Jesus gave to a large crowd of followers. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” “This is the hard stuff,” they thought.
But it wasn’t the hard stuff—just the opposite. It was a prophetic invitation to communion, a description of our participation in union, an invitation to consume and embody Christ within us. The words Jesus spoke, as He went on to explain, were “full of Spirit and life!” (11) The disciples just didn’t understand them—yet.
Jesus’ message revealed how Measureless Love reconciles and restores all humanity to Himself. Jesus’ words contained an invitation for the disciples to leave their limiting certainties and lean into faith. It was an invitation to engage with the Emmaus Road burning that cries out from deep within, “We knew eternal life in our hearts even when our heads heard cannibalism.”
“Does this offend you?” the Emmaus Road Jesus asked His disciples. For many, it did, and understandably so. “From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.”
Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” (12)
How had Peter and the remaining disciples come to believe that Jesus was the Holy One of God? That’s a good question.
In hindsight, we know their belief wasn’t extra-biblical, but neither, at that moment, could they have referenced chapter and verse. So, they hadn’t “come to believe” based on their current understanding of Scripture–nor was it because Jesus broke down His systematic theology. There was no biblical exegesis, just the Word who became flesh speaking to burning hearts.
This was not an exercise in literal inerrancy. Rather, this was about faith. The disciples had come to believe and know that Jesus was the Holy One of God because, in the context of relationship, they recognized eternal life as the nuclear explosion burning within them when The Word made flesh spoke to them.
“You have the words of eternal life,” Peter said, trusting a measureless love that transcends dimensions of time and space, as well as finite understanding. Because they stewarded the burning, the disciples were not put off by their inability to understand Jesus’ offensive words.
They had “come to believe” God was better than their best understanding and current biblical interpretation. It’s called faith. This faith is discovered in the One who laid His life down for His friends, and this burning is the only way we can know God and truly interpret Scripture.
When our experiences and understanding seem like hard stuff, cruciform love can be trusted. And where we can trust, we don’t have to understand.
“…Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…” There was literal error in Jesus’ words, but because the disciples were in a growing relationship with Greater Love, even though they literally heard Jesus preach cannibalism, their hearts knew Jesus wasn’t preaching cannibalism…
This article is excerpted from my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus