At the end of every episode in one of 1950’s iconic cowboy TV shows a mysterious masked man wearing a powder blue suit who had just rounded up the bad guys, would ride off into the distance on his horse Silver; someone would always ask: who was that man? and the reply invariably would be, well I don’t know, but I’ve heard him called the Lone Ranger.
Who was that man- or more precisely who is this man is a question people have asked about Jesus for the past two millennia. His identity mystified his contemporaries and still baffles many today. And you might say that the conversation about who he is, began with the dialogue he had with his Judean followers in today’s Gospel reading.
What has started out as moment of appreciation for what he has done, has now morphed into puzzlement or even irritation. St. John narrates that these people who have followed Jesus regarded him as a teacher, a healer, who have witnessed his miracles also know him as one of their own. They knew his family and they watched him learn his trade, grow up. Local boy makes good. Played second base for the Nazareth little league team. But now he is calling himself “the bread of life.” Telling them “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever and the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” What? Excuse me-has this fellow gone off his rocker. Little wonder that the crowd is offended, even angered by Jesus’ suggestion that he, the lad from Nazareth, is the answer to their deepest longings and greatest needs because he is the Christ, human and divine.
This is the claim that offended the crowd that day, who followed him then and the assertion that has offended many down to this very day. Many religions are offended by this claim that Almighty God would deign to take on mortal flesh. Also, modern enlightenment-rationalist philosophy which has such an influence in western civilization is highly skeptical if not antagonistic toward anything that smacks of the supernatural. Such thinking can and does accept Jesus as a great moral teacher and figure but certainly not as divine.
One can at least be somewhat sympathetic to this view: For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability, and when we seek God in justice and righteousness which is after all what we expect from God, we find-or rather more accurately are found- by God in forgiveness and mercy!
The debate of who Jesus is or isn’t continues- I go along with C.S. Lewis’ analysis:- “a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
This is the claim and promise Jesus makes today in the Biblical text: That I am both human and divine in one person, and that my flesh and blood is the means by which the world will know God’s redeeming saving love.
Today once again we encounter the carnal God, the God who does not despise the ordinary and common but rather uses it to achieve God’s will: this is the promise that rests behind the Eucharist, communion. For as God does not despise water, bread, wine; such ordinary common things, we also know that God does not despise or abandon us, who are similarly such ordinary and common people. And so in the sacrament, in communion bread and wine we find God’s promise to take hold of us and make us God’s own, to infuse his life into our own, to remain with us and to never let us go. Amen. Who is this man? He is the Bread of Life. Amen.