I have an obnoxious habit. (Well, probably more than one, but I’m just going to mention the one right now.) In a situation, when I am with other people whom I know identify as Christians and if we are talking about churchy, religious, or spiritual type things- I pay attention to how many times Jesus is mentioned. In listening to sermons, I think about how long it is until Jesus’ name comes into things. I want to hear about Jesus.
More specifically than just a mention of Jesus, I am interested in how we talk about him. Is Jesus easy to talk about- he’s great, good, and groovy? Is Jesus difficult to bring up- mysterious, frustrating, and confusing? Is Jesus close by and a ready comfort or far away and standoffish?
How do we interpret Jesus as a revelation of and from the Godhead? What does Jesus teach us about eternity, creation, and mercy?
It is possible to have a reductive conversation about Jesus- Jewish man from Roman-occupied Palestine, an itinerant rabbi with a band of unusual followers made up of women, laborers, and people who had worked for Rome. He died an ignoble death and something happened to his body.
For many of us, that’s not enough to say about Jesus. However, we are often as simplistic about
his divinity as some people are about his humanity. He died for our sins. He came to save us. Jesus loves the little children.
|By Fritzs [GFDL ]|
We’re talking about a fully human, fully divine being who caused his parents deep grief, who spoke with full knowledge about the prophecies of Isaiah, and yet also called a Canaanite woman a dog (Matthew 15). The very touch of his garment brought healing to a woman who suffered years of bleeding and his very words cursed a fig tree (Mark 5 and 11, respectively). Jesus warned off Peter’s bluster by rebuking him, “Get behind me, Satan” and then, later, washed Peter’s feet with humility and tenderness.
Jesus is a complex figure, the pioneer of our own faith and faithfulness, and God in flesh in our world. We cannot simplify who he was, who he is, and who he calls us to be. Today’s reading from John underscores that truth.
By the time gospel according to John is written, the Christian sect of Judaism is pretty much on the outside of temple life. It is, in part, through their own doing. Imagine tolerating a small group of people inside your religious group who have their own language, their own daily habits, and their own worship liturgy. As they progressively grow in their separation, it becomes harder and harder to include them in the activities and dynamics of the larger group. While there was animus between Jewish Judeans and Christian Judeans, the separation between the religious groups likely was more organic than the historically anti-Semitic slant of Western church history has led us to believe.
When the Fourth Gospel is being written, the complexity of living the Way of Christ has become evident. In the snippet of chapter 6 that we read today, the Greek takes a strange turn. The writer has Jesus initially using the verb phago for “to eat”, which is fairly straightforward. In verses 53 and 54, however, there is a switch. The writer moves from phago to trogo. Trogo is a little more graphic, more intense than the simple eat. Trogo, in Greek, conveys gnawing, munching, and crunching.
Thus, the writer is deliberating making these words of Jesus almost more offensive. Jesus invites those who believe to eat his flesh and drink his blood and it won’t be a dainty or tidy meal. It’s a gnawing banquet, in which everything is to be savored and stripped- with the bones crunched and munched.
The writer of the Fourth Gospel is making it clear that being part of the community will not be for the faint of heart. The very ways that the love of Jesus compels us to be at home and in the world are tough, intense, gnawing acts of grace and mercy.
Unfortunately, many Christians today want Jesus to be fast food- cheap, easy to consume, and quick to clean up after. Yet, I find that the world needs the Jesus we gnaw, the Jesus we pick over, the Jesus we make soup from and still find marrow inside the bone that brings nutrition.
That 900-page report out of Pennsylvania about 30 years of abuse by priests- the pain of that situation, the hurt people, the damaged trust… that situation needs gnawing, munching, and crunching. It is for trogo, not a quick phago. There is not fast food solution to that in the Roman Catholic Church or to anything similar in any denomination or religion. Jesus urges us to do the work of getting to the bone of the issue.
The reality of Anchorage teachers returning to work without signed contracts- guaranteeing their rights for the year ahead- is an issue to gnaw over. It stresses and stretches people who are in this room right now. It affects the children of this city, the present and future of Alaska. The love of Christ compels us to consider the complexity of the issue and gnaw it down together.
The growth of wildfires in California, the frequency of 100-year floods in the mid-West, the overturning of regulations meant to sustain the growth and safety of wild and human life… these are issues to gnaw over together. Not things that can be solved simply. Not things that can be ignored. Not things that have nothing to do with our faith, but in fact, these are the very things that we can address because we have faith.
The eternal life mentioned in John here and elsewhere is synonymous with the abundant life mentioned in John 10. It is not a life waiting to start after death, but a life that comes with having Jesus with you in the present. It is a clear and present truth for all whom Jesus draws through himself, by the Spirit, to God the Holy Parent. This is the life we have when we feast on Christ- when we gnaw on the truth, munch on the mercy, and crunch on the amazing grace that leads us to where God can use us for the sake of others and the world that God made.
When we come to Jesus’ table, we are usually pretty tidy. I know that you want bite-size morsels that you can chew and swallow easily. Little sips of wine or juice wash down the crumbs and we wipe the edge of the cup in a semblance of being sanitary. Yet, we are fed in a mysterious way by a complex Savior who has promised to show up in this meal for the purposes of feeding our faith so that we can live a life that is going to bring us alongside all kinds of people and situations that we would probably not choose for ourselves and, sometimes, would avoid if we could.
It was true for the Christians of the first century, receiving the words of the Fourth Gospel, and it is true for those following the Way of Christ in the 21stcentury. We serve a resurrected Savior who is our brother (sibling rivalry), our leader (who is sometimes too far ahead), our teacher (whose lessons can be confusing), our healer (in his own sweet time), and the lover of our souls (what?!?). All of these things gnaw at us and we, on them.
Jesus is complicated. Jesus loves us. Jesus challenges us. Jesus wrestles with us. Jesus sends us out into the world, but there’s nowhere we can go that he’s not already there to welcome us. He feeds us. And, since Jesus is God, our whole lives are contained in him- from beginning through eternity.
Let’s chew on that for a while.