A reflection on St. John 6:51-58
Today, he is pleading, explaining, imploring, teaching in the Capernaum synagogue.
“I am the bread.”
“I am the life.”
“I am the flesh.”
“I am the drink.”
“I come from the Father.”
“I have seen the Father.”
“I am the bread of life.”
“Eat of this and never die.”
On he has gone and on he will go to the end of the chapter.
They are hardly listening. He is met with incredulous stares and outright rejection.
“This is Joseph’s boy. We know him. What does he think he’s talking about?”
When I read John’s sixth chapter I can hear in my mind the increasing strain in Jesus’ voice as he tries to make himself understood.
I can hear the urgency underlining his words.
I can sense his growing frustration with himself and with people who are not hearing him.
We’ve all had conversations like that where we just cannot make ourselves understood or believed.
Picture a father speaking to his son. There is the son, defiant and edgy. The son, he’s got the wrong crowd. The father talks and talks; threatens, blusters, warns, pleads, weeps. The old man has experience and the wisdom of the same mistakes made in earlier years, but the son remains aloof, contemptuous, and unresponsive, a smart-ass know-it-all.
The father thinks to himself or maybe he even manages to say it out loud: “If only you could creep into my head and think my thoughts, and feel my worry, and see with my eyes—then you’d know my love, then you’d understand me.”
Or picture the mother in front of the daughter, the one gone self-destructive with the cutting fad, pleading, talking, all of it for nothing.
And the mother says: “If only I could let you know what I know; if only you could understand the experiences I’ve experienced and learn; you are worth more than this; you would know that if you could only feel what I’m feeling; then you would know my worry and my love for you.”
This is how I think Jesus spoke that afternoon, with all the tension and emotion he could summon. When you see someone headed for disaster, you issue your warnings as fiercely as you might. And then pray to God you have been heard.
“Listen. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What Jesus knew about himself is what we need to know about ourselves.
We need to know our need of him, our need for the bread of life.
As he pleaded with them that afternoon, so he pleads with us today.
He pleads that our life will be a life derived from him, sustained by him, permanently linked to him.
He was rejected that afternoon—one of many rejections he would experience. How much more this morning?
We have heard Jesus pleading in his time when he walked the earth. Isn’t this still his plea in this time? A world hungers, and does not know where to eat.
“Get up and eat,” an angel once said to Elijah. “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
We must feed on him if we are to journey in this world, this world as it is. We must feed on him and drink deeply of his spirit. He must enter into us as intimately as food and drink. We experience this in Holy Communion. We take into ourselves the life of Christ and we become the life of Christ for neighbors, family, and friends.
It’s been a tough week, you know.
There’s been too much bad news, too much political cynicism, too many arguments and misunderstandings. Our human frailties can make us miserable.
Are you hungry for something real, hungry for something with no strings and no hidden agendas; hungry for something so authentic it will stir your soul?
Are you hungry?
Come to the table.
Come and eat.
Come and be refreshed, for the journey is long.
Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church, author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays, and a featured author at First Things magazine web site.