Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lord, to whom can we go?

The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 23082015

Reading: John 6:56-69

Some of you will have heard the rather infamous story of the church noticeboard that bore the legend “Don’t let worry kill you – let the church help.”

We laugh at the unintended ambiguity and the consequences of faulty grammar; but as in much humour, tears are not too far away – because anyone who has had much experience of the church will have known occasions when the church has broken hearts and wills rather than been a source of love and hope.

The passage in the gospel today has a grim realism that comes from that kind of tough knowledge. We read that many of Jesus disciples ‘turned back and no longer went about with him.’ 

The more I think about that statement it seems almost incomprehensible. To have known Jesus, to have walked from town to town with him, talked and shared meals; to have seen what he did … it seems hard to imagine leaving him, turning one’s back on him and his community.  Yet John tells us that is what happened: and not just a few, but many!

Did Jesus’ heart break at this desertion?  Did his ministry seem to be a failure?  Did he doubt himself?  Anyone in the ministry of the church can identify with this situation and knows the anguish it can produce – we know it ourselves when someone who has previously always been part of our community takes offence at something and leaves. 

However we do not know how it affected Jesus – we are not told.
And yet we can speculate and John gives us some grounds for doing so.  

Immediately after being told of many leaving Jesus we read:
‘So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." -John 6:56-69

Jesus’ question to the twelve may hint at him carrying some grief at the loss of his followers – this is a foreshadowing of the via dolorosa – but it is also a sign of the freedom given those who follow him.  This is a choice to be made.
In this moment of pain and grief there is also recognition and affirmation since Peter speaks for the twelve and says ‘To whom can we go?’  He affirms their experience of Jesus and declares “we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter summarises a process in those words ‘we have come to believe and know’ – it hasn’t just happened but this is a commitment and relationship born out of much experiential knowledge.

You may remember that last week I talked about this chapter of John in terms of ‘cognitive dissonance’: this week we have seen cognitive dissonance alienate many of Jesus’ followers but equally we now see how the same cognitive dissonance can also bring others to new and deeper realisation of who Jesus is.
The Christ who shocks and repels with his hard sayings is also the Christ who draws us to himself; the one who invites us to share the cross and who walks alongside us to the end of our journey.
The 6th century philosopher Boethius understood this when he wrote: 
“To see Thee is the end and the beginning,
Thou carriest us, and Thou dost go before,
Thou art the journey, and the  journey’s end.”

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