John 6:56-69 â€“ 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time â€“ for August 26, 2012
â€œThis teaching is difficult; who can accept it?â€ (John 6:60)
Since itâ€™s only you and me, I want to honestly reveal a few thoughts about my Christian faith.
Sometimes I think myself a:
Yes also . . . a doubter.
These insights were easily triggered after reading John 6:63-64, where Jesus supposedly announced, â€œIt is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [Here comes the verse that makes me gulp.] But among you there are some who do not believe.â€
Soon after these verses in Johnâ€™s Gospel, many of Jesusâ€™ followers drifted away. Left. Vamoosed. However, speaking for the terrific twelve, the disciple Peter stayed, reassuring Jesus about their belief and commitment to the Nazareneâ€™s words and way.
Good for you guys! Itâ€™s swell to have buds that’ll stick with you through thick and thin, when the going gets tough, as the storm clouds gather and . . .
. . . Oops. You and I know the whole story. Twelve brief chapters later, with Jesus under the imperial thumb of Rome, boastful Peter will mumble heâ€™s never heard of Mary and Josephâ€™s first-born (John 18:25-27). For our friend Peter, the shelf life of belief had expired.
And yes, the wayward fisherman, the brother of Andrew, the Peter who becomes the â€œrockâ€ of the church, will stage a comeback.
Still, there are those passages, scattered in the Gospels like landmines, where both unnamed and famously named disciples skulk off into the night. Jesusâ€™ words were too hard. Jesusâ€™ ways of confronting powerful institutions, and challenging an individualâ€™s weaknesses, demanded more commitment than seemed humanly possible.
Itâ€™s far too easy and self-indulgent to imagine Iâ€™m a hearty, steadfast Christian . . . like the Peter we finally witness deep into the Acts of the Apostles who healed strangers and baptized gentiles and generally wielded the name and message of Christ with a boulder-steady faith.
Am I not more like the unnamed, unknown followers of Jesus that admitted, â€œThis teaching is difficult; who can accept it?â€
Indulge me. Let me cherry-pick a few teachingsâ€”regardless of which Gospel contained the wordsâ€”that prompt me to turn tail and scoot for the hills.
- Give my coat away? Sure, as long as itâ€™s the one never worn or worn-out and I can keep my favorites. (Matthew 5:38-42)
- Am I like the father scurrying out to welcome his younger, â€œprodigalâ€ son? Truth be told, Iâ€™m older son material, grading others like an Olympic judge wearing a blindfold. (Luke 15:11-32)
- Claiming Jesus as the only path to knowing God? Sorry, Iâ€™ve met too many hard-hearted, mean-spirited and hypocritical Christians (â€¦takes one to know one, rightâ€¦), and quite a few humble, vulnerable and compassionate atheists. (John 14:6)
Jesusâ€™ teachings were are too hard. And they are frequently corrupted. Regarding the recent murder of six Sikhs in Wisconsin, their killer Wade Michael Page â€œwore his beliefs proudly. On his bicep he has the number 14 tattooed in the middle of a Celtic cross, the symbol of the neo-Nazi White Power movement.â€* And what else, long before any Nazi connection, did a Celtic cross symbolize? Sigh. (And check out this New Yorker article I literally just read about Oak Creek.)
Jesusâ€™ teachingsÂ were are too hard. Thereâ€™s no need to be dramatic, referencing the current headline depicting a tragedy or travesty in the name of Jesus. Each day, in my feeble life of faith, I do think itâ€™s fairer to label myself with a word from my opening list. Am I not agnostic because thereâ€™s so much Iâ€™m not sure about? Iâ€™m enough of a heretic because I do doubt established traditions like Jesusâ€™ virgin birth. According to a 2007 Barna.org survey, 75% of Americans are convinced the virgin birth happened like the Bible said. Doesnâ€™t joining the 25% dump me into the heresy pit? (Of course, maybe thereâ€™s been a big shift in the numbers since â€™07?)
Jesusâ€™ teachings were are too hard. I do cling to my coats as others shiver. I linger in metaphoric fields and criticize metaphoric siblings. I may cringe at fellow hard-hearted Christians . . . but Iâ€™ve accumulated enough shameful actions in my life to repeat: it does take one to know one!
And yet . . .
In one of my favorite (and happily overused quotes) Maya Angelou mused,Â â€œIâ€™m trying to be a Christian. Iâ€™m working at it, and Iâ€™m amazed when people walk up to me and say, â€˜Iâ€™m a Christian.â€™ I think, Already? Wow!â€
Or how â€˜bout this from Frederick Buechner, â€œFaith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all.â€
In my faith, I have not arrived. Sometimes I focus too much on my weaknesses. Sometimes, Iâ€™m such an arrogant jerk. But alwaysâ€”and I believe this like my life depended on itâ€”the God revealed by Jesus, in the Gospels and in my heart, never leaves my side. When, like the followers who vamoosed, I slink away, I sense the metaphoric footsteps of Jesus alongside, as silent as an honest prayer, as eager as a father welcoming a wayward child.