Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Not Just Bread Anymore

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Closer Walk with Thee
(Creative Commons Image by Mary Constance)


Admit it. You want to go to the party that gets to admit, “This is hard, who can take this?” And when Jesus asks, “Do you wish to go away?” don’t you secretly wish you could say, “Yes. Yes, Jesus, in fact I do, if I am totally honest. It’s been a long five weeks and I am ready to move on, ready for a break. Enough bread already.” But notice that if we do not include the verses from last week’s lection, bread isn’t even a topic of conversation in these concluding verses of the Bread of Life discourse. That should be a big clue that something else is going on, something that should make us reread the entire chapter with new eyes, something that should elicit a response like that of the disciples. Just because we have 2000 years of perspective doesn’t mean this should be any easier for us than it was for them.

These last verses of chapter 6 remind us of the critical modifier in this entire exposition of Jesus as bread -- of life. This last portion of the Bread of Life discourse is all about rejecting life and in this regard, we have come full circle. We began with Jesus literally giving life to the hungry. But when it comes to imagining life beyond the literal, beyond our basic needs, beyond survival, well, that’s when we start getting uncomfortable. Which is why you have to add back in the rather unpleasant verses at the end of the chapter that the lectionary omits. Which is why we start with betrayal and not bread.

This is how betrayal works, at least according to John. Remember, there is no handing over of Jesus in John. Jesus hands himself over at his arrest because that’s what the Good Shepherd does (10:17-18). Betrayal in John is not believing that the abundant life Jesus offers you is real. Betrayal is that which causes you to believe that this life is for everyone else but you. Betrayal is anything and everything that makes you think you aren’t someone Jesus could love. Yeah, God loves the world, but when it comes to you? Well, there are certain demands and stipulations. You are a special case, not really worthy of a love that, if we are honest, seems rather indiscriminate -- God loves the world? that seems a bit much. Betrayal is that which suggests that your potential for a relationship leaves a lot to be desired, so much so that rejection and marginalization is simply your lot in life. Betrayal is thinking that real relationship is just a farce, just a figment of your hopeful imagination. Real relationship? That means belonging, intimacy, want, desire, mutuality, reciprocity, nurture, safety. That’s for books and movies and TV shows. That’s for a God that manipulates instead of promises. And we are really used to that kind of God. That’s the kind of God in which the world wants us to believe. That’s the kind of God the world would have us think is really running the show.

This is truth. Because at the end of the day, life, real life, life lived, abundant life, is hard to fathom, hard to accept, hard to imagine that it could be yours. Judas’s betrayal is fundamentally a rejection of relationship but it is also an unwillingness to receive life beyond measure, an inability to accept that abundant life could be true, a reluctance to envision, to dream, to picture that when God said God loves the world that it actually meant him -- and means you.

And thus enters in another disciple. This is Simon Peter’s Caesarea Philippi moment. He believes and knows, synonyms in John, both having to do with relationship. Don’t assume Peter in John is the same Peter in the Synoptics. Another thing to remember -- that in John, Peter will not deny who Jesus is but will deny who Jesus wants him to be. We need to recall that believing in John is never a noun, always a verb. What is Peter saying? We have experienced you, been in relationship with you, you are who you say you are. God in the flesh. God committed to relationship. God wanting to be in relationship. We forget just how vulnerable relationships are. That they are the places and spaces of being known and knowing, of no escape.

Once again, the betrayal here is not being able to enter into that relationship. Not wanting to be known. The betrayal is acquiescing to fear. The betrayal is our attempt to sabotage relationships before they get too close, especially our relationship with God. So we walk away before it gets too close. We rationalize, domesticate, or moderate God’s desire for relationship with us. We explain away the incarnation as if it was only a temporary moment in God’s time and not meant for our time.

There’s a reason Judas is introduced for the first time here, and why other disciples walk away before he does. This is betrayal. Not handing Jesus over but not being able to handle the intimacy of relationships that matter, but most importantly, our relationship with God. Peter tells the truth. It’s one thing to be in a relationship with the majority of persons with whom we find ourselves in a relationship. It’s quite another when you begin to realize that the one with whom you are intimately involved is the Holy One of God.

And so, we have come to the end of the Bread of Life passage in John. Much more than bread. And as it turns out, much more life than we could have ever imagined -- or even that we want. Thanks for staying with me, for sticking with it. John thanks you, so will your parishioners, albeit perhaps delayed responses (but that’s the nature of ministry!), and so do I. It’s worth it to abide in the Word. Because in the end, John promises that this abiding leads to the truth, the truth that is Jesus, and the truth will truly set you free (8:31-32).

Karoline

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