Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

February 06, 2004

John 6, among other things

Ah, Friday morning. I'm sitting at a computer in the student union building at the campus where I work (USM). It's very quiet here and I've got an hour to kill.

Small group last night was cool. I announced that we would be breaking up in a couple of months. Our group will probably be morphing into three groups at least. Things will not be the same, after PDL. I think that is such a good thing, such an exciting thing, because it's going to nudge people further along in ministry (that is, in their own personal "walking out" of Romans 12:1).

A new opportunity has opened up for me: to write for a local monthly Christian newspaper (wow, that's almost too many adjectives for one noun to bear). This seems to have come along at just the right time, since I have been asking God to use my writing for His kingdom. So, cool! I'm going to jump in head first! I have no idea at this point what the editor has in mind, but will be meeting with him soon. I covet your prayers.

I've been reading chapter 6 of John. Actually, since the beginning of the year I've been reading the same chapter each day for a week. Now I'm in chapter 6, next week 7, etc. Does this seem crazy to you? It's been a real blessing to me. It's made me aware of the inadequacy of so much of my reading--that is, my reading has been little more than skimming at times, or a searching out for some nugget of spiritual comfort and nothing more. About two years ago I read a book called How to Read a Book, which really demonstrated to me the need to assess the quality of my reading life. Do I do it well? Am I good at it? Have I settled for a certain modest level of comprehension, taking for granted that the act of reading, which has been so large a part of my life, is simply what it is, and there's nothing I can do to improve on it? Is "voraciously " really such a good way to read?

So: I am reading the same chapter 7 days in a row. On the 7th day (this is new) I will read the whole book up to the current chapter. So, at the end of the sixth week, I will read chapters 1 through 6. At the end of the seventh week, chapters one through 7. Although I'm not sure about this last part. I expect to be rather occasional in my obedience to that rule. The point of it is not to lose the sense of context--how does the present chapter fit into the overall flow of the book?

Anyway, there it is. And I'm on chapter 6 of John. Jesus, who had been seeking solitude, is followed to a remote place by a large crowd. We can kind of imagine that most of these are economically down-and-out, physically hurting, politically disenfranchised and just generally frustrated. They're hungry for leadership, they have the makings of a mob, and they're expecting Jesus to fulfill, somehow, the unexpressed longings that underlie their sense of frustration and futility.

Am I reading too much into it? These people had literally pursued Jesus hungrily. He had crossed the lake in a boat to arrive at this remote place, and most of these people had to walk around the lake to arrive here. In truth, Jesus was seldom able to escape the hungering crowds. Anyway, he feeds them. This is not only a miraculous act, and not only an act of mercy, but the offer of community. This is a let-us-break-bread-together moment. Let us be friends.

And how do the people respond. Many among them assume that they have found the kind of temporal leader they need. A King! Suddenly the miracle is subsumed in political ambition fueled by long-standing resentment. Rebellion is going on.

Jesus withdrew from the crowd then, and even departed from them surreptitiously (and miraculously) during the night. Still, some at least follow Him again across the lake and there is a second encounter. Here Jesus confronts them in a way that completely disappoints their expectations. He says, Okay, you saw a few loaves and a few fish feed thousands, and so you want to make me your king. But look here. I am the real bread. That bread you ate was for temporary nourishment, but the bread I offer is life eternal. I offer my very flesh and blood. If you eat of this bread and drink of this blood, you will really live!

Do you see how Jesus diverted temporal ambitions toward an eternal perspective. He is offering these people a radically different way of understanding, and for some the leap is just too great. They can't accept it. They're offended. It is a clash of worldviews here, and it is a dramatic moment. Many fall away. But the point is, Jesus perceived their need in a different light than they perceived it. They said, here is how we want you to fulfill our need, Jesus. But he said, your need is not what you think. Let me show you your real need.

The seriousness of what Jesus offers is very clear in this chapter. People are confronted with a choice here, and the responses vary. The real point I want to make is, Jesus used graphically physical imagery to convey a spiritual truth, and directed the attention of his audience thereby from the temporal to the eternal. He had done just this with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, and now with this large crowd.

We need to remember that this is our task too. To direct people toward the things that last. People are literally consumed with their needs, their issues, and seek to fulfill them in ways that are temporary and often unhealthy. Our best assistance is simply to point people to the bread of life and say, Begin here.


Post a Comment

<< Home