As we come to the final of five readings from John 6, we arrive at the crunch moment in the chapter. Although confusion, grumbling and complaining have been part of the whole chapter – and would have reminded the first readers of the people of God complaining in the wilderness of Sinai in the book of Exodus – in today’s passage the tension escalates as many of the crowd get up and leave, declaring the teaching of Jesus to include ‘intolerable language.’ These are not just people who happen to be in the synagogue in Capernaum on this day – they are called followers and disciples.
Just as in last Sunday’s gospel, when the disciples began to argue about the meaning of the words, and to dispute that Jesus was actually wanting to feed them with his flesh and blood – Jesus does not back-pedal or offer a purely spiritual interpretation for this very physical reality. Rather, he allows the many followers to leave him, and even seems to offer the same possibility to the twelve – ‘What about you – do you want to go away too?’

The first reading from the end of the book of Joshua (chapter 24) offers a similar crunch point. After hundreds of years, and the forty years in the wilderness, the people of God have finally entered into the promised land, and have begun to conquer it through a series of conquests and a process of more peaceful settlement. Joshua perhaps knows what may lay ahead – as the people of God begin to settle down with their pagan neighbours and perhaps begin to forget the exclusive claims that God has made upon them in the covenant of Sinai. So he calls them together at Shechem for a renewal of the covenant, setting the options very starkly before them – much as Moses had done at the end of Deuteronomy in his declaration that he sets before the people ‘life and death, health and prosperity.’ Joshua then leads the people in the renewal by example: ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’As we hear Jesus address the same question to us today, the question remains: how will we respond? What shape and texture will our lives take as we live as Christians? How will our lives look to our perhaps pagan neighbours? What will our celebration of the Lord’s day look like?

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (9’52”)