A meditation on John 6: 56 – 69
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church August 26, 2018
Even as King Solomon dedicates the temple, the long awaited temple, the temple which his father David was not allowed to build, he acknowledges the foolishness of his labors: “the highest heaven cannot contain You, God! No temple can contain you! How is it even possible for You to live on the earth?
How could You possibly live on the earth? It is a question we carry with us from childhood, directly related to “Does God see everything I do??” That’s a question usually asked by a child who has just done something they know they may soon regret…
It was Solomon’s father, King David, who gazed around his own beautiful palace and felt guilty. Why should he, the King of Israel, have such a beautiful home for himself when they only provided a tent in which God could dwell? A Temple for God was David’s to plan, but was not his to build. His son carried out his dream of creating a splendidly beautiful box for God.
When I was little, my grandmother would give my brother and I old cigar boxes. They were the perfect size for holding treasures: a shell from the ocean, a rock (which was found in the backyard but must be valuable!), a key (especially when they have been separated from their locks, keys carry a wonderful mystery). I was drawn to the aroma that lingered in the cardboard and I loved the hinged lid. There was something magical about having a small box in which I could keep things that were all my own. But I also loved to peek in my brother’s box to see what he kept there. Rubber bands. He loved rubber bands. His glasses from when he was a toddler. A feather. A pocket knife.
As we grow we just replace the childhood boxes with other kinds. Different shapes and purposes. Lunch box. Pencil box. Backpack. A hope chest. (I never had one, but really, should hope be kept in a box? Doesn’t hope need light and space and air?) Briefcase. Suitcase. House. We live in boxes and, most of us find that a comfort. To have a place to call our own. We fit nicely inside our boxes sometimes.
But God? There isn’t a box big enough. Although, if we were really honest with ourselves and with God, we would admit that sometimes we like to tuck God inside a box and say, “Shhh. Don’t make any noise. I’ll be back soon and I’ll take you out again!” Just like a child might do with a snail or a garter snake. Snails and snakes escape from shoeboxes. They don’t mind keeping quiet, but they don’t like to live in boxes. Neither does God. But then, God isn’t really one to keep quiet, either.
Solomon knew this truth about boxes – that there is no God sized box. He knew this before the temple was begun. He was brought to his knees with this truth when they gathered to celebrate and pray prayers of dedication and thanksgiving for their newly completed Temple.
The dream of building a house for God was finally realized! No longer did they have to be ashamed that other peoples’ gods had beautiful homes and theirs did not!
What they – and we – have a difficult time grasping is that God doesn’t mind being homeless. A homeless God can live anywhere and everywhere, which is as it should be. There are well over 50 churches in Tuscaloosa alone – not counting Northport! God has so many places to be, and everyone wants God to be at their church somewhere between 10 and noon on Sunday morning. It’s a good thing God is an extrovert who doesn’t mind living out of a suitcase!
We get what drove David and Solomon to want to build a home for God. They wanted to show that their God was special, set apart. We do, too. They wanted to demonstrate their desire to love and even protect God. We do, too. We build churches and call them God’s house, knowing that no one place can contain God, knowing that protection is not what God needs from us.
It is very much the reverse, isn’t it?
It is God, vast and intimate who is our home.
It is God who offers us love and protection.
It is God who holds us and contains us even while setting us free.
“Do you want to leave me, too?” Jesus asks his disciples, as he offers to set them free from his crazy tutelage. He has watched the crowd thin out. The multitude, which was overjoyed to be fed with bread and fish, has winnowed down to a countable number. “Do you want to leave me, too?” he turns to “the twelve” and asks. Did he say it with sadness or fear or concern? Was it offered as a challenge, as in “go on, I dare you!” Did he know all along that as much as they wished that they could run away, they truly had nowhere to go. They had already made their home with God. When you’ve found the home for which your heart has been longing, you have to be crazy to give it up.
The people who left? The people who had been following who turned back to their old life? They had a valid reason: Jesus was saying crazy things. Throughout this long chapter about feeding and bread, Jesus has used the word “estheo” in reference to eating. In talking about the bread and the fish, he uses “estheo,” to eat or consume. Today we hear him say something shocking: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”
This concept, “eating flesh and drinking blood” without our contemporary lens of the communion meal, sounds…gross. Disgusting. Nauseating. But Jesus doesn’t leave it at that. This time, when he says “eat,” he uses the word, “trogo,” which means to eat nosily. Trogo is crunching. Trogo is gnawing. You don’t “trogo” ice cream (not that they had any). So, let’s say you don’t “trogo” hummus. You “trogo” nuts, or a bone or crunchy vegetables. You have to bite into it with intention and determination and give your jaws a work out.
Intentional vocabulary selection? Of course! The concept is difficult to digest, if you don’t mind my saying so. Incarnation is shocking. God’s love is shocking in its expansiveness. He tells them, “You are going to have to bite into this teaching, and chew on it. You must digest it, take it in. Savor it. You will know if you are ready for it.
For the majority of the people gathered there this bread is indigestible. This is their breaking point. Someone in the crowd turns and says: “This message is harsh; who can hear it?” (6:60) This teaching is offensive, intolerable. In the Greek? “This LOGOS is harsh, who can hear it.” This Logos.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. When they say that this “logos” is too hard, they are saying that this Jesus is too hard. John 1: 14 And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father. The Gospel writer expects his readers to remember this powerful introduction to Jesus, the Word made flesh.
The Christ they wanted, (writes Suzanne Guthrie) is not the Christ who appears.
He’s not a magician. Or a political savior. He wants them to participate in transformation, beginning with themselves. Who wants that? Such a transformation is too costly. Why can’t Jesus just do the good work in the world while they watch?
He says, THIS is my body. This ordinary bread. And people, too. The poor. The helpless. The outcasts. This body expands too far.
This isn’t what we’ve been hoping for.
Let’s go somewhere else. And yet… where else can we go? Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. – John 6:68[i]
What about this life of walking in Jesus’ way feels too difficult? Would you rather be spoon fed a gentle faith than have to bit into Jesus’ challenging teachings?
On August 17, The Washington Post ran an article entitled, “The Un-Celebrity President: Jimmy Carter shuns riches, lives modestly in his Georgia hometown.” President Carter won’t accept six digit fees for public speaking, although he doesn’t judge other presidents or their spouses who do. He lives in a two bedroom ranch home that is valued at less than the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside. Carter teaches Sunday School, writes books, and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity. Who does this?? After serving as president, you could justify feeling entitled to a little bit of comfort, a little bit of plush…but not Jimmy. Not Rosalynn. It is remembered – with controversy – that he carried his own suitcases onto Air Force One and refused to have “Hail to the Chief” played. Jimmy and Rosalynn are powerful examples of people who choose to stay. They choose to gnaw on Jesus’ difficult teachings. The stay with the Logos when the world challenges their desire to leave this hard Logos behind.[ii]
What does it mean to choose God? Writes Debbie Thomas on her Journey with Jesus blog. What has it meant to you in the past, and what does it mean now? It’s a question we must keep asking ourselves, because the choice never goes away. Choose this day. And this day. And the day after that. Keep choosing, because God has chosen. [God] always and already chooses us. Now it’s our turn.[iii]
Thanks be to God, who has forever chosen us!
[i] Guthrie, Suzanne. http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper16b.html
[ii] The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2018/08/17/feature/the-un-celebrity-president-jimmy-carter-shuns-riches-lives-modestly-in-his-georgia-hometown/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4fec91e13398
[iii] Thomas, Debbie. www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1888-choose-this-day
Additional sources consulted:workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1440; Feasting on the Word Lectionary Commentary for the Gospel of John; Preaching God’s Transforming Justice