It all started about two weeks ago when I was reading this moment in John’s version of Jesus – John 6. Well, let me back up first.
Over the months I feel I have been shedding the dead skins of the “churchianity” inherent in protestant America. A big chunk of that has been an intentional lack of reading the bible, and even more specific, the “New Testament.” Obvious in my writing has been the redirection towards the Jewishness of it all. Never had I realized how much I was missing underneath the cultural layers of repetitive “Christian” phrases and interpretations – even that word “interpretation” seems to have misguided understandings.
So, I was reading this chapter 6 – where Jesus multiplies bread, then walks on water, then tells all his closest buddies and anybody in earshot to eat his flesh and drink his blood. – you know, that one. What started to get to me is that he is being such the Rabbi and I never saw it until now. And it ends with many people walking away from him saying, “This teaching is too hard.” As far as Rabbi’s go, this Jesus’ interpretation of reality is more than they can handle. And I don’t think it is about eating flesh and drinking blood. I think they are bugged at a metaphorical level.
He starts with physical Bread. When the people ask for more tricks, he talks about metaphorical bread that they are really longing for. They go on about Moses and the bread their ancestors ate in the wilderness, (which seems to be just where he wants them to go). Then Jesus drives it home saying, “Uh, yeah, I was there and I am here again with something even deeper than that.” He refers to 3-4 different things from the bigger story that any Jew then had to know about: the miracle of manna, Yom Kippur, possibly the miracle of the quail, and the Presence of God amongst them in the wilderness.
What if what is so “hard” about the teaching isn’t about eating flesh or drinking blood? What if what is so “hard” is that Jesus is saying, “Yeah, that time in the wilderness with the manna and the quail? The whole Pillar of Fire and Column of Smoke being so uncomfortably close to you? The reality of God asking you to trust against all odds, even when the necessities in life run dry? Well, you ain’t seen nuthin yet.” What if Jesus was saying something like, “I want to be closer to you than I even was back then?”
Again, I am reminded that the Israelites seemed to asks for less and less direct interaction with God as time went by. It started mano-y-mano. It eventually became an isolated room in a temple that only a few guys could talk to, with a rope around their waste. Then there was a “silence.”
So, Jesus shows up and does some pretty cool things with fish and bread to get their attention. Then he lays it on them that the kind of life God wants is one that is up-close again, only not isolated to a wilderness experience; he wants it in the everyday. He says, “if you eat…I will come and make my home in you.” Not just pitch a tent near by, but actually move in.
And they said, “this is a hard teaching, who can follow it?”
An interesting wrap up comes at the end of the chapter. Peter is asked if he thinks it is too hard, also. His response is something like, “Uh yeah, but I am still in, I’ve got nowhere else to go to find this kind of crazy life.”(my version) Connect the dots. Peter most likely had walked on water the night before when Jesus came by the boat. Peter heard his Rabbi say to him in not so many words, “What is it with you? I told you I believe you have what it takes to be and do things like me. So why are you not walking on water like me?”
I am guessing that moment had to be pretty fresh still for Peter. So when Jesus, asks his questions, Pete ain’t about to call it quits. And the rest of the gang was there when it all went down the night before, too. I imagine they are a bit tongue-tied and glad Peter wasn’t. Due credit, they probably didn’t fully grasp what was being said, but their guts must have got the gist.
So what’s so hard about it all?
Well, it goes back to that feeling of being unraveled. God seems hard set at intimacy and trust, always has been. So Jesus throws out what it means to follow him, this particular Rabbi, and add to it that he is more than just any old Rabbi; that he is about intimacy and trust at a level that makes the exodus experience look like the kiddy pool…well, you bet it is hard and something to consider before going on. I know I do….about once a day…..