Sunday, August 19, 2012

Walking Away From Jesus. A Homily for John 6:60-69

Homily for 8.26.12
JOHN 6:60-69 (see below)
Year B



What the Lectionary began several weeks ago, as it opened to us the sixth chapter of John, it now brings to a stunning conclusion. The conflict between Jesus and the Judaeans, which began as the aftermath of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000, now finally, and sadly, ends with their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

You will recall we said that this miracle account -- found in all four Gospels -- and Jesus subsequent explanation of it, clearly exhibited to his audience his understanding of the Kingdom, with himself being presented as Messiah-King.

So, when Jesus says in John’s account of the miracle:

“I am the bread of life,”
“I am manna from heaven,”
he means us to understand that: 
  1. GOD IS UNIQUELY AT WORK THROUGH HIM 
  2. THAT GOD IS AT WORK MEETING DAILY NEEDS, ESPECIALLY THE NEEDS OF THE LEFT-OUT AND LOCKED-OUT, THROUGH HIM 
  3. AND THAT GOD IS OFFERING NEW LIFE AND A NEW WAY TO LIVE THROUGH HIM 
And you will also remember that we said the crowds who actually experienced the miracle clearly wanted a much different scenario. They wanted to make Jesus into a different sort of king, one who would lead a violent revolution against Herod and Rome. But, Jesus had on offer the much more difficult way of life that is characterized by non-violent, sacrificial love and by reconciled forgiveness, a way in the end, his listeners reject outright.

This argument that eventually results in their abandonment of Jesus, however, is pushed to a head by Jesus himself. When Jesus says:

“eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood...”
it is simply too much for his listeners. They cannot accept these words, and they say so:
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
But, Jesus offers no comfort and no grading on the curve:
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe."
And, with this final roadblock to their own agenda of violence, the followers simply stop following:
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Which brings about a crisis within his own little band of intimates. Because, St. John tells us, Jesus knew he already had a traitor with him, he asks the twelve:
"Do you also want to leave?"
This is the moment of truth, and the turning point, I think, in the disciples ongoing understanding of what was Jesus’ true purpose. No matter what else would happen, these guys, both the true followers and the traitor, now realize that Jesus was offering a different way to be GOD’s chosen people, which meant a different way for the nation to find freedom and final vindication.

This chapter, therefore, climaxing in today’s text, makes clear the truth that Jesus never panders to his would-be followers. He neither strokes the fickle nor pampers the undecided. He fully knows that the way he offers is a most difficult path, costing literally everything, and he is willing for the one in front of him to walk-away, literally, should they so choose.

For our understanding today, then, I want us to focus on these three realities that mark the Jesus-way in our text:

THE JESUS-WAY IS DIFFICULT, OFFERING THE WAY TO TRUE LIFE

THE JESUS-WAY IS DIFFICULT, COSTING EVERYTHING

THE JESUS-WAY IS DIFFICULT, OFTEN REJECTED




THE JESUS-WAY IS DIFFICULT, OFFERING THE WAY TO LIFE

First, we see presented in the text a most troubling truth. Peter’s confession carries these words:
“...You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
I understand, of course, that political correctness
-- “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race [or religion]) should be eliminated” --
leaves little room for the argument of ideas. That is, in this current flatness of post-modern culture, all ideas and life-styles are created equal, except the idea that might differ from political correctness, that idea is deemed bigoted.

OK, that is the given, but Peter cared little for such post-modern niceties because he had been mysteriously drawn to Jesus, and had dramatically and defiantly responded by leaving his known life to follow Jesus into the unknown. That is, Peter was captured by Jesus and the Jesus-way, which we have all-along characterized as a lived-out non-violent, sacrificial love and an ever-expanding reconciled forgiveness.

“...You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." 

Not too popular an idea today, to be sure. To find out how unpopular one need only offer the idea that Jesus is the one, true way to GOD and one quickly learns how closed is “marketplace” of ideas. But, there it stands like whipped cream on an onion, out of place, an anachronism to a long dead day when the argument of ideas reigned.


So, what are we to do with this? 

Clearly, it must be said that Jesus is not for everyone. Clearly, one must be mysteriously drawn to Jesus by the Father. Clearly, to come to the understanding that Jesus is the Holy One from GOD who alone possesses the words of eternal life one must decide to come to faith and become convinced that he is truly who he says he is.

Which leads to the second point...


THE JESUS-WAY IS DIFFICULT, COSTING EVERYTHING

To have faith, then, and to become convinced that Jesus is truly who he says he is, means no mere mental assent to a certain set of denominationally owned propositional truths. To be sure, the creeds, for example, offer understanding and guidelines for the parameters of belief, but set no path to true faith.

True faith is more than some meager mental assent, as it is more than the hope that something is true. No, true faith is the unsettled reality that the path on which one is set makes no sense, does not seem to match the pattern of the current context and therefore does not seem to correspond to real life.

It makes no sense for Peter to walk away from a successful fishing business, to leave everything to follow some unknown itinerant preacher. It makes no sense for Peter, after he learns that this one he follows is decidedly not a violent revolutionary, to continue following. It makes no sense after the one he is following is murdered by the empire to persist down the same road. And finally, it makes no sense, and is really beyond understanding, that Peter should be so committed to the Jesus-way that he himself should die for him. These actions correspond little with the way real life is perceived.

It is all the more astounding, then, that Peter offers one of the most memorable confessions in the Holy Scriptures, memorable for its honesty:

Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.
Here we see the brutally honest reply of the genuine disciple: “Walk away? How can we walk away? What do you mean? Where else can we go? We’ve nowhere left; we’ve given all of it up! All our bridges are burnt."

This is discipleship and this is faith. True faith costs the follower of Jesus everything she has.

Which, leads us, of course, to the final thought, and what I see as the main point of the text:


THE JESUS-WAY IS DIFFICULT, OFTEN REJECTED

Because Jesus portrays himself as the only way to GOD, and because Jesus asks those who would follow this way that they forgo their own life agenda and their own life dreams and plans, and that they, instead, sacrifice all for him, all for the sake of the Gospel, and all for the love of the other, the Jesus-way is most often the rejected way.
Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him...
reads the text. So it was and so it is today. The Jesus-way is often rejected out-right, people sense more than see the truth-claims and the life-claims made by Jesus, and they simply want no part of it. But, more often people seem to accept the Jesus-way in theory, but in practice they reject it for any number of reasons. 

To be honest, I often despair that I have never truly met a Christian. Certainly, I do not see one looking at me in the mirror. My only response to the steep difference between my deformed practice of the Jesus-way and the actual Jesus-way is that to this point I have not yet walked away. I am still hanging in there, still struggling, and still making the failure-scars on my heart of a discipleship not yet realized. In the end, I’m not sure what to make of my discipleship, and I’m not sure Jesus would know what to make of it either...


_______________________________________

GOSPEL READING -- JOHN 6:60-69

Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said,
"This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, "Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe."
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said,
"For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father."

As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."


THIS IS THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD!