12 PENTECOST, PROPER XIV - B - 18 JOHN 6. 35, 41-51
Our gospel for today continues with the theme “bread of life,” to which Jesus adds the promise of eternal life. However, Jesus’ opposition, the Jews, St. John’s designation for those who opposed him, complain, as did their ancestors in the wilderness.
This time their complaint is aimed directly at Jesus because he said, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven. They know him, or at least they think that they do. We know your parents, they say. How can you say you came down from heaven? Here they openly oppose the idea of his divine descent.
In the five verses that are skipped over in today’s passage Jesus first chides them for their having seen him and yet they do not believe in him. Secondly, he makes the claim that those who do believe in him will have eternal life.
“No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” The Jews oppose him because their minds are closed. They have made the decision not to believe in him.
Too often, we forget what scripture and Jesus teaches us about the new life He brings now and the promise of eternal life that is ours in Him who do believe in Him. Not everyone is going to heaven. This remains a shocking reality to many even today as it did to those, including his own disciples, who asked him about it then.
It is not that God does not want everybody to be eternally in His presence. The reason not all will be is that God has created us with free will that is the ability to choose. Not everyone chooses to follow Jesus. Remember the little camp song, “I have decided to follow Jesus?”
That reminds me of a story Bishop Tom Wright likes to tell about C.S. Lewis. It seems that Lewis was interviewed at one time by an American Christian journalist who was writing about well-known characters who had converted to Christianity during adult life. The theme was “decision.”
He wanted Lewis to tell him how he “had made his decision.” Unfortunately, for his project, Lewis refused to put it into those terms. He hadn’t “made a decision” he said. God had closed in on him and he could not escape. Tough at times he had badly wanted to.
The closest he would get to using the language the reporter was interested in was to say, “I was decided upon.” In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes it in a more evocative phrase: “His compulsion is our liberation.”
Last week those who had eaten their fill of loaves and fishes asked Jesus what they had to do to be doing the work of God. He answered: believe in him who God has sent. God invites and His invitation is always a balanced one with an open and free appeal: anyone at all who is thirsty is invited to come to the water that is an offer; anyone at all who comes to Jesus will not be rejected.
Throughout John’s gospel, he presents Jesus as Life and Resurrection. Moreover, Jesus identifies himself as such in today’s passage in the verses that are skipped over as well as the concluding verse. Jesus makes the promise that those who believe in him He will raise up at the last day. His promise is eternal life.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” Eternal life is the quality of life Jesus is promising. It is a sharing of the inner life of Christ. It is an offer made to anyone who believes in Him.
Eternal life tells you what sort of life it is, as well as the fact that it goes on after death. It is the life of the age to come, the new life that God has always planned to give to the world. Eternal life begins in the present when someone believes, and continues in the future beyond death.
It will eventually take the form of the resurrection life Jesus is alluding to in today’s passage but which is ignored by those who oppose him. Rather they are stuck on the idea that he has said that he comes from God. How often we get stuck on one idea about God and become deaf and blind to all that God truly is and does.
For example, one hears a lot today from various preachers and religious leaders that God is Love. And He is. One only has to look at the cross to see this is true. However, there is a path, a journey if you will; one must take in order to come to know the love of God, and to understand what the will of God is for each of us.
Repentance is the beginning of the journey to God. We have to make the decision to “turn” away from the life we were living before we were drawn by God. We have to choose to follow the new life God is offering and inviting us to in and through His Son, Jesus.
We have to learn to trust in God, and not ourselves. We have to learn to live by grace in order to continue to make the daily decision to follow him. We can’t get stuck on one idea about God, that God is love, for example, and think that if we love God we can do what we want and all will be well in the end. The gospel does not read that way.
The legalists in today’s passage decide not to follow Jesus, only oppose him, ridicule him, and try to discredit him before the people. “We know who you are. We know your father and your mother.” Yet God’s invitation came to them first in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Sadly, it was an invitation they decided not to accept to their own condemnation. Salvation cannot be earned. It is a gift of God for all who are drawn to him; to all who make the decision to follow in His ways; to live according to his will; to respond to his love with love.
Each time we come to God’s altar and kneel to receive the “bread of heaven”, we are receiving a foretaste of the heavenly banquet Christ himself will one day preside over. For now, it is our spiritual food as it was physical food for the Israelites in the wilderness.
However, once they crossed over into the Promised Land, they no longer received it nor needed it. For the land they inherited was one of milk and honey that satisfied their every need. One day we will no longer celebrate Eucharist, for then, we will be in the greater presence of Christ where all of our hopes and dreams; all of our wants and desires will be found in Him who is Resurrection and Life. AMEN+