Monthly Archives: August 2018

So now – Choose!

It’s the end of a long chapter – today we read John 6:59-69, completing several weeks working through John 6.  There have been arguments about what God wants, who Jesus is, and how to find life.  When it comes down to it, there is – what?

Some will leave to assess the campaign, polish their arguments, and work out the next step, sure they are right and must win.  Others will go back to the everyday, refusing to take any decision, or wanting to believe that it doesn’t really matter.  John wants us to understand that we make a choice.  Even deciding to think about it another time is a choice – to avoid the issue.

Jesus never hustled people.  He never used his position to threaten.  But he did make clear that the way to life was to follow him through life, questions, difficulties and everything.  Not “when I get around to it”, not “when I have sorted myself out”, but starting her and now.  The disciples understand.  They may not be having a good day, hearing the conflict, fearing the outcome, but Peter has the line, ” “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Surely John knew that it was not only on that occasion that people had argued and prevaricated.  His Christian community knew only too well those who were “interested, but . .”.  And, no matter how committed we like to think we are, we also know how easily we put off – well, what’s your current “when I get around to it”?

Being part of one another.

What does Jesus mean when he says, “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” (the first verse of this week’s extract from John 6 – John 6:51-58).  It is obviously important (and, incidentally, one of the sayings that mean you can’t just take Jesus as a wise teacher. This is either a madman, or someone – really important!)

It doesn’t help that Christian tradition has divided into 2 very different ways. Some take this, admitting it has something to do with the eucharist / communion, as little more than a visual aid. Jesus tells us we ought to eat together, and this is a picture of fellowship and a reminder of the story of the Last Supper, which leads on to his sacrificial death.

On the other hand, others will give almost magical significance to the bread of communion, seeing it as the guarantee of Jesus’ presence in power, and the celebration of the eucharist as the answer to all problems, and the only real way to worship. And rather than just scratch our heads, we ought to go back to the text and see what Jesus is saying and John recording for us:

6:49 “Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died.
6:50 But the bread that comes down from heaven is of such a kind that whoever eats it will not die.”

On the way out of Egypt, the Israelites learnt to rely on God, who gave them manna to eat. The crowd who enjoyed the feeding of the 5,000 know that story, but Jesus wants them to look beyond a free lunch. What else is available? Life – real, lasting, quality life. But how is it to be had? (Their big question, and ours!). The answer is not complicated, though some will not see it.

It is neither just a question of how you think and form your opinions. Nor is it a matter of doing the right rituals. It is – Jesus. He will be / has been the sacrifice. We will live if we feed on him. But how? Some of the crowd seem to suspect cannibalism, or at least a very un-Jewish drinking of blood. It is symbolism – but more, sacrament (“the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”).

We feed on Jesus as we hear, understand, and put into practice his teaching. We feed on Jesus as we come, perhaps tired, or preoccupied, or doubtful, and make ourselves a part of his people, his body. We feed on Jesus when we do what we think he wants, or directs us to.  It means we recognise our need of him, and asking for his help, become committed to learning and following.

We feed together in the service we call “eucharist” (thanksgiving), (or “Holy Communion”, “Lord’s Supper”, “Mass”, “Liturgy”, “Breaking of Bread”). Publicly gathering and admitting our need to be fed, strengthened, livened up. Tiny quantities of bread and wine; eaten, absorbed, becoming part of us. We are no longer independent, our own masters. It is not the physical act of eating that is vital – we remind those “nil by mouth”, the coeliacs and the alcoholics of this. Yet it helps to go and take, with empty hands, in company of others who need Jesus too.

This text is simple, and yet difficult. It makes clear that it is never enough to be impressed and influenced by Jesus. We must make a closer identification, so that he and I are linked, even mixed. On the other hand, the dependence is on God / on Jesus (yes, the two are very close here) – and not on having a priest available, or getting yourself ordained.

It is easy to see how tradition has sometimes distorted the meaning, because the challenge of letting Jesus in so that he becomes part of us, and we of his body, is always great.

EAT me?

As we continue to read John 6 (this week, John 6:35 and 6:41-51), we see the crowd arguing.  First comes the old complaint: He can’t be special, he comes from our neighbourhood, and we know him.  Some people still take offence at the idea, not just that Jesus is special, but that he is much more than “one of us”, and one who must be followed and obeyed.

Verses 44 and 45 gives us two sides of a puzzle.  God must draw people to Christ and belief, yet any who want to find truth can be sure of help.  Each side is helpful – we need to understand that some people will not hear, but also that none who want to learn are refused.

The “bread of life” is one of the important “I am” sayings.  It would be dangerous and wrong to make it a magical understanding of receiving Holy Communion, and equally wrong to ignore the connection to the service in which we give thanks (“eucharist”) above all for the sacrifice of Jesus death and the triumph of his resurrection – the central points of faith.  We do that with more than words, with action, and by eating.

Is it just eating? No. To gobble stolen consecrated bread would be of no advantage.  It is about feeding on Jesus – through his teaching, his life, understood, obeyed, absorbed by the power of the Holy Spirit into our life, transforming from within the person.  What is eaten becomes part of me, provides energy, rebuilds my body, alters my mood.  Eating together with other believers brings us together, as sharing a meal always does.  With them we worship, becoming more like what we hold worth praising, and give thanks (remembering how much there is to be thankful for), and by our prayers try to work with God and with one another.

Jesus gives everything for us.  We are invited to receive what he gives, to let it become part of us, to change us, to energise and direct us.  Never a mere ritual, an act of personal worship may assist and advance the process.

Wrong reaction!

It wasn’t just a free lunch, it was a sign!  The story we started last week continues (John 6:24-35).  The crowd find Jesus again on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Having seen his healings, and eaten the food provided, we might hope that they see the point – but no!

The reading explains how easily this can go badly wrong! Jesus had fed the 5,000, the gathering of leftovers pointing to a great miracle. He had resisted being made King. Now, when the crowd catch up with him again, he tries to point them in the right direction – not to another free lunch, nor to revolutionary politics, but to the life and gifts of God.

They ask, “What must we do?”, and Jesus wants them to believe. He can tell them and lead them, but they must listen and learn. Sadly, the motivation is lacking. “Why should we bother with you?” “What proof do you offer?” (the lunch has been forgotten quickly) “We have Moses . .” There are plenty of retorts, but little understanding.

Jesus points out that it wasn’t Moses who gave manna in the wilderness, but God. God, who gives life, and Jesus the bread of life. Do they want what only God can give, or not?  You can see the offer, but also that it is not going smoothly. That story will be continued.

Take a moment to recognise the different responses of Jesus’ disciples and the crowd among people you know. For some their response to what God gives is: “How can I get more for myself?” “Why should I bother to do as Jesus says, or try to behave like him?”   Others are ready to receive and learn. We are supposed to be those who know, and do, better.