Monday, August 6, 2012

Who, Then, Is This Jesus? Homily for JOHN 6:41-51

Homily for 8.12.12
JOHN 6:41-51 (see below)
Year B
(some of this material appeared before here)








The Lectionary Gospel reading for today continues the aftermath of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 which we began two weeks ago. You will recall we said then that this miracle account, found in all four Gospels, clearly exhibited to his audience Jesus' understanding of the Kingdom, with himself being presented as King. 

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 
But the the crowds who actually experienced the miracle just as 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, as I say, Jesus had on offer the much more difficult way of life that is non-violent sacrificial love and reconciled forgiveness.

This means the Judaeans had somehow missed the teaching moments given by Jesus as he explained the meaning of the feeding miracle. And, instead, they had shifted and moved his explanation toward their own cultural expectations and their own preconceived ideas. Take note of this move, for we do it as well (see last week's homily):

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king..." (Jn.6:14-15)
To which Jesus replies:
"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
Here, with crystal clarity, Jesus’ offers a self-definition and his self-understanding:
  1. Moses didn't give you bread from heaven, Jesus explains, GOD did, and he is doing so again, now, in me! 
  2. As in days of old, GOD is maintaing his people and his world. 
  3. Jesus here claims that he is the bread from heaven, the bread of life. 
  4. By which he means them to understand that he is the true and stunning gift from GOD, and he is, therefore, GOD's provision and the fulfillment of all his promises. 
  5. Jesus presents himself as GOD's final, full and complete word to them, and us. 
But the Judaeans now stumble over Jesus words:
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven?'"
That is: 

Just who does this guy Jesus think he is?”

AND THAT REALLY IS THE QUESTION 




BUT, let’s pause here for a moment, before wrestling with the today’s reading. I want us to think about what is actually happening to Jesus in this portion of John’s Gospel. Because, if we are not careful, through our familiarity with the text, we will simply write off the Judaeans as mere props in a story with a forgone conclusion. 



You know, “He came unto his own, blah, blah, blah; now let’s get to the good part -- his passion and victory...

But I don’t think this is what is going on here at all. I think John is giving us a Jesus who is desperate to connect with his people. Jesus is desperate for “his own” to hear the message of Messiah, and to believe.

Else, why send out the 70 to share the Messiah-message in the surrounding towns? And why contend so strongly with those in front of him to accept his way to life, this very real, human and abundant life?

In Jesus’ mind lives are in the balance; the future of the nation is at stake.  For Jesus knows, even if his hearers do not, that hate fired revolution could only end in death, their death.

So, why do they refuse him and his way of humanness? Fired by centuries of distain by the other, the Judaeans simply cannot conceive how turning the other cheek could be revolutionary. And, frankly, we can’t see this either.

Anyway, finally, mercifully, Jesus explains the dilemma of their rejection...
Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.
And here we are confronted with the mystery of election. But, to use this word is to risk gut reactions all over the place, not the least of which from this very pastor! Even so, we’ll come back to this idea in a moment, but we must not miss the power of John’s primary point.

Jesus here makes his identity-claim as explicit as he could. Listen to he text:
It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
Jesus’ claims are astounding, coming at us hard and fast, and I don’t see how he could make his identity any clearer. If you have ever fretted over just who Jesus is, here is Jesus’ identity, explicitly spelled out for us.

[NOTE: I understand, of course, that most N.T. scholars look as John’s Gospel with a jaundiced eye. At present, this is not my problem.]  

For example, N.T. Wright reminds us that the quote from Isaiah 54,
“They shall all be taught by God,”
was a promise of renewal and of the bringing back of GOD’s people from exile. But, Jesus means his listeners to know this promise was being fulfilled at that very moment in their hearing and that the promise of renewal was being opened to everyone, and not just the Judaeans:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever...” says Jesus...
Or, notice how Jesus claims that he’s the one who came from GOD, and the one who has seen the Father:
“Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.”
Or, take note of Jesus claims that it is his flesh that is the life of the world?:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
This can only mean to the brutality of his death, which some of the crowd now present would eventually desire because their disappointed expectations would turn into revenge! That is, their hate for Herod and the Romans would have to go somewhere. This is human nature.

And, finally, Jesus offers eternal life... 
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal lifeI am the bread of life. 
Clearly, the Eternal Father -- the Creator, sent Jesus the life-giver to bring to life, through his own faithfulness, the Father’s promises, so that the world would be reclaimed and made new.

This then is the Gospel:
The King has come, and through the death and resurrection of the King the internal workings of the world have been forever! So that there is now a new life offered and a new way to live to be truly human...
Having said all of that, then, there are three ideas I want us to think-through on the basis of today’s reading, but of necessity we must be brief...

  1. JESUS, THE ELECTION OF GOD 
  2. JESUS, THE MANNA FROM HEAVEN 
  3. JESUS, THE OFFER OF ETERNAL LIFE 

JESUS, THE ELECTION OF GOD

The text reads:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.
The question of GOD’s election is much too complicated to unpack here in any detail. So, the controversy between GOD’s sovereignty and human responsibility will have to be fought another day. But I would like to make one point.

Often, we only use reformation categories to describe an understanding of election:
Someone is elected and predestined by GOD to go to heaven when they die, and others are elected and predestined to go to hell.
For a number of reasons I believe this is a mistake. Primarily, we are predestined and called, not to heaven but to be:
“conformed to the image of his son.” (Ro.8:29a)
Does that mean we are to look like a first century Judean? Hardly. No, we are, those of us who are mysteriously drawn by the Father to the Son, to take on his character and lifestyle. And on the off-chance you’ve forgotten, this means daily living out a non-violent sacrificial love and a reconciling forgiveness.

So, what is election? I appreciate Christopher Wright's take from his book, The Mission of God’s People (p. 72):
Election of one is not rejection of the rest, but ultimately for their benefit. It is as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of their number to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is not so that she alone gets saved, but that she is able to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued. “Election” in such a case is an instrumental choice of one for the sake of many. (pg. 72)
As such, Jesus is the ultimate of GOD’s elect, and those of us who decide to follow Jesus, that is those of us who are mysteriously drawn to him, for both ideas are true, are called to join in his election to sacrificial service and reconciling love.


JESUS, THE MANNA FROM HEAVEN

We must always keep in mind that the question of Jesus identity -- who he is -- directly impacts the import of his work -- what he did. This means what Jesus did becomes real only as we come to believe him...

In the text Jesus says:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
That is, the question is first to believe, which means we first accept the Christ in the mystery of faith. Then we begin to understand who Jesus is as we come to him in believing-faith. This means we first accept his Kingship and his Kingdom way of life -- sacrificial love and forgiving reconciliation -- as our own way of life, and then who Jesus truly is begins to come to light in our understanding.


JESUS, THE OFFER OF ETERNAL LIFE

Finally, the eternal life which Jesus offered his hearers, and by extension us, is more than hope after we die. This eternal life is that, of course, it is that hope, but it is more than that hope. We can get into this by asking, just when this eternal life begins?

Well, we know that the promise of eternal life begins in the present, in the moment we take on the Jesus way, as we follow him in believers baptism and in the yoke of discipleship. We thus possess this eternal life now, as we live in the faith and faithfulness of the Son, Jesus. Which means that this eternal life his way of life is the one and only true life, abundant life, and the truly human way to live.
___________________________

Gospel -- JOHN 6:41-51
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
"I am the bread that came down from heaven,"
and they said,
"Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
'I have come down from heaven?'"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Stop murmuring among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."