the flesh is no help at all | John 6.61-65
But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” John 6.61-65 | ESV
His would-be followers kept their voices low, but Jesus could sense their indigestion, their inner rumblings, and he spoke directly to it: “So, you don’t have the stomach for this, do you? My talking about Bread is derailing you? Seriously? How can you even then come close to handling some of the sights you will see if you would only stick around – like the Son of Man going up to where he was before? You’re so hung up on externals – but such externals won’t get you anywhere, it’s the interior spaces and power of the Spirit that fills you with life, and that taproot of Spirit and Life is where all of my spoken words spring forth. But for some of you, that spring is firmly plugged with your own unbelief.”
You see, Jesus knew the score from the beginning: those who didn’t have eyes of faith to see, and the one who only had eyes filled with latent possibilities of betrayal.
Jesus kept shaking his head and saying, “It’s what I’ve said before – only those able to hear the Father’s song are invited to join me in the dance.” MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
The word translated literally “flesh” in the New Testament is quite the loaded word.
The living body.
Natural or physical origin.
Sensuous or animal nature.
Yes, it’s a mouthful, inspiring long lectionary entries exploring the 151 times the Greek word (σάρξ = sarks=”flesh) is used on New Testament pages. Sorting and sifting through all those layers we are ultimately confronted with what is viscerally and utterly human in energy, cause and effect.
We like our flesh. We trust our human energies, drives, causes and effects – though the religious among us at least seek to couple this human dynamic with the divine, to tame or, perhaps better, to harness the flesh in religious pursuits, to see the flesh engaged for God in accomplishing great things for him and his world. In what for us should be another very hard saying, “The flesh is of no help at all,” Jesus isn’t’ so much labeling the flesh or humanity as evil as much as he’s warning us that if humanity is driving this, we really don’t want to go along for the ride.
Whether it’s religion harnessing the flesh or irreligion unleashing it, it’s not going to be a happy landing.
Jesus’ wannabe disciples had been running a messianic campaign attempting to harness the ultimate human energy of the Son of Man to accomplish the most far reaching changes at least on the surface (flesh) – eliminating oppression and foreign domination, establishing economic prosperity and cultural purity – all of these were key planks in their platform. And we readily drive the nails into our own platform in our own day, as Jesus, all the while, tries to take the hammer out of our hands and point us away from that to “the interior spaces and power of the Spirit that fills you with life.”
It’s the same page the prophet of old had been trying to get them to turn since he proclaimed centuries earlier, “‘Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord” (see Zechariah 4:6).
But oh how hard it is for us to turn that page…
How much of your walk with God is about your driving efforts to improve yourself and your world? What would you say is the difference between harnessing the flesh and walking in the Spirit?
Abba, show me the difference between using my flesh for you and your cause and truly being surrendered to your Glory; between trying to fight a spiritual war with carnal weapons and seeing you restore all things through me being yielded to your Spirit. Show me, God. Through Jesus.