“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
In the Gospel reading this morning, we continue into John’s discourse on the Bread of Life and are once again faced with doing are very best to understand what Jesus is trying to teach us through these verses. We are, once again, faced with some rather enigmatic sayings from Jesus that make this faith of ours seem quite bizarre, and we might find ourselves echoing some of the thoughts of Jesus’ interlocutors, which up to this point has been a crowd of people. In today’s reading, the crowd suddenly becomes “the Jews” and the hostility within the reading increases as the discourse continues.
Early in the discourse today, the question of origins comes to the forefront after Jesus makes the claim that he is the bread of life and that he comes from the Father. You can almost feel the temperature rising as you read the passage from today’s Gospel. As I entered into the text, I could feel the anger that was cast towards Jesus. So, what happens when we read the Gospel with that kind of tone put into the mouths of the people that are discounting what Jesus is saying? For example, it might sound something a little like this:
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”
When I read with this kind of tone in it, I can imagine myself having the same kind of reaction to someone’s claim that they are able to do something that is beyond the natural abilities of human beings or perhaps in response to a new direction being taken in a parish or in the national church. I can hear myself and others raising the same kind of tone without really taking the time to truly understand what another person is saying, and I can see myself and others jumping to the incorrect conclusions based on superficial assumptions of who or what another person is or should be through the lens of the dominant culture. Thus, it seems that I have to learn – or in this case relearn – what it means to actually listen to another person. I have to take a moment to actually hear Jesus as he says, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
The listening that I need to do is the very way that the Father teaches me something new each and every day if and when I am able to focus on being in true relationship with others both inside and outside of the Church. In last week’s sermon, I mentioned that it is not up to us to accomplish the works of God. Instead, it is up to us to recognize where God is already moving and shaping our lives in the present day. The same is true about how we learn about the Father and how we are all taught by the Father, and it means that all that are taught by the Father are also being drawn by the Father to Christ. It means that I no longer need to worry about the worthiness of a person to be in ministry in the Church as a lay person or within one of the other orders of the Church. I no longer have to worry about whether a person is black or white or brown or yellow; I no longer have to worry about whether a person is straight or gay; I no longer have to worry about whether a person fits into my expectations or assumptions of what it means to be a faithful disciple. Instead, I need only worry about how I am able to respond to each person that I enter into relationship – and that is true not only of my relationship with other people but also with God.
As I engage in relationship with others and with God, it is incumbent upon me to begin listening very intently to hear the words of God as they are voiced through the words of another human being. If I truly understand God to be teaching all of us something about the nature of God (and therefore about the nature of love), then I also am able to understand that the question of origins is no longer an important question for me to consider. The question of origins that is repeated in this particular reading from John is also stated in the very beginning of the Gospel according to John when it reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Thus, it seems that John is repeating his assertion that Jesus is of God first and foremost, which also means that Jesus was present at the creation of all of humanity. The words of the prologue connect us back to the creation accounts in Genesis in which we are told that God created humanity in God’s image; in God’s image God made them male and female. The origins of Jesus and the origins of all of us are to be found in God, and if our origins are in God, then we are all able to be taught by God by simply sharing the gifts that God spoke into our being at the dawn of creation through to the present day. The gifts of God are abundant, and they are gifts that God uses to teach us something about God. The gifts that God shares with us become God’s tools for teaching when we share those gifts with each other freely AND when we are willing to accept the gift another person is sharing with us. Just as I have the choice to be drawn to the Father and thus to Christ, I have the choice the accept the gift of another in a way that enables me to learn something new about the image of God as I look out across the varied and beautiful landscape of humanity.
The bread that comes down from heaven so that we may eat of it and not perish did not stop coming down from heaven at the conclusion of the Gospel narrative. In fact, we might even be able to see that it is through the presence of the Advocate that the bread of life continues to be present in our lives as long as we are paying attention to the many different ways that God is attempting to teach us something through our relationships with each other. As the Advocate, which we might call the Holy Spirit, moves in our lives, we will find that the bread of life was present when Christ walked the earth, and it is present in the current age as God continues to speak creation into being. As I awaken to the movements of the Spirit in my own life, I am able to listen to the details of the stories of the lives of the people that surround me, and I am able to appreciate that person as a loved child of God. I am able to learn something from those details as I listen to the narrative, and I am able to enter into the narrative primarily because I remain committed to relationship, to communion with another person – especially when I find that I disagree with someone on something. The bread of life is here in the present age, but in order for us to feast on that bread, I have to remain committed to deep, loving relationships when I know that I have a different view of a particular issue. I have to remain committed because it is through that fidelity in relationship with others that I am able to grow deeper and deeper into the mystery of faith.
While remaining faithful to my relationship with God and with others will be difficult at times, I am also reminded that Jesus tells me that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” If I understand the bread of life to be present in the present age just as it was present in the days when Jesus walked the earth, I am reminded that Christ exemplifies the kind of fidelity that I am meant to have in my relationship with God and with fellow members of humanity. The presence of the Advocate in our lives is a testament to the depths of Christ’s fidelity to humanity – to the fact that the Father continues to teach us through Christ and the power of the Spirit. It is a reminder that I am called to be faithful to God in the same way and to remember that the Father intends on teaching ALL of humanity through Christ. If I truly believe that all persons can be drawn to the Father through Christ, then I also have to practice loving those that might appear to be very different than me. Through sharing the gifts that God first shared with me, I am, in a very particular way, recognizing that all persons are beloved children of God. Through sharing the gifts of ministry that God has given to each of us, we are able to practice the same kind of fidelity that Christ practices with us, and we are able to look beyond the small differences between us in order to see that the person standing in front of me is also part of the image of God.