The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 6:35, 41-51

THE FIRST VERSE OF THE GOSPEL READING FOR TODAY TAKES US BACK TO WHAT WE HEARD JESUS SAY LAST WEEK, “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE. WHOEVER COMES TO ME WILL NEVER BE HUNGRY, AND WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME (MORE CORRECTLY TRUSTS IN ME) WILL NEVER BE THIRSTY.” THE REST OF THE GOSPEL PASSAGE MOVES US ALONG IN JESUS’ DISCOURSE ABOUT HIM BEING THE BREAD OF LIFE. WHILE MUCH OF WHAT HE SAYS SOUNDS LIKE A REPEAT OF WHAT WE HEARD LAST WEEK, IT IS ACTUALLY A RHETORICAL METHOD OF CIRCLING BACK TO THE TOPIC TO MOVE THE DISCOURSE TO A NEW LEVEL. LAST WEEK, JESUS’ DISCOURSE WAS AIMED AT THE CROWDS WHO WANTED MORE PHYSICAL BREAD TO FILL THEIR STOMACHS, BUT NOW HIS DISCOURSE IS AIMED AT THE JEWS.

JOHN’S USE OF THE TERM “JEWS” IN HIS GOSPEL IS NOT ANTI-SEMITIC, AS BY THE TIME HIS GOSPEL WAS WRITTEN THERE WHERE MANY ETHNIC JEWS WHO WERE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST; AS WERE THE FIRST DISCIPLES. JOHN USES THE TERM “JEWS” TO REFER TO THE JUDEANS WHOSE RELIGIOUS WORLD VIEW WAS CENTERED IN THE TEMPLE CULT IN JERUSALEM. TO THEM, GOD WAS TO BE FOUND AND APPROACHED ONLY BY WAY OF THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM OF THE TEMPLE, AND THIS JESUS WAS GIVING THEM A REAL HEADACHE. THEY BEGAN TO MURMUR TO EACH OTHER ABOUT JESUS’ SAYING THAT HE WAS “THE BREAD WHICH CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN,” BECAUSE HE WAS CLEARLY DRAWING A PARALLEL BETWEEN GOD’S GIFT OF MANNA FOR HIS PEOPLE IN THE WILDERNESS AND GOD’S GIFT IN HIM.

THEIR REACTION TO WHAT JESUS SAID WAS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF CONFIRMATION BIAS; SOMETHING WE SEE A LOT OF DURING A HIGHLY CHARGED POLITICAL SEASON, AND OF WHICH ALL OF US ARE GUILTY IN SOME DEGREE. IT IS THE INABILITY TO ACCEPT, OR OFTEN EVEN HEAR, THAT WHICH DOES NOT FIT INTO ONE’S PRECONCEIVED MAP OF REALITY. IF IT DOES NOT FIT INTO THE COMFORTABLE BOX OUR MIND HAS BUILT ABOUT WHAT IS TRUE, IT MUST BE CHALLENGED AND REJECTED BECAUSE IT MIGHT CHANGE THE WAY WE SEE THINGS. AFTER ALL, WE CAN’T BE WRONG. THUS, RATHER THAN TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT JESUS IS TELLING THEM, THEY ATTACK HIM PERSONALLY; “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’?”

THEIR BIAS IS EXPRESSED IN THEIR CONVICTION THAT THEY KNOW JESUS’ FATHER. JESUS BASICALLY TELLS THEM TO SHUT UP; “STOP MURMURING AMONG YOURSELVES.” THEY DON’T KNOW JESUS’ FATHER, BECAUSE, IF THEY DID, THE TRUE FATHER OF JESUS WOULD HAVE DRAWN THEM TO HIM. THE WORD HE USES IS THE SAME FOR DRAWING FISH CAUGHT IN THE NET INTO THE BOAT. JESUS ESCALATES THE CONFRONTATION BY QUOTING THE PROPHET ISIAH IN A POSITIVE CONTEXT; “AND THEY SHALL BE TAUGHT BY GOD.’ EVERYONE WHO HAS HEARD AND LEARNED FROM THE FATHER COMES TO ME.”

STEVE SAID LAST WEEK THAT TO BE A FOLLOWER OF JESUS WE MUST BELIEVE IN OUR HEARTS AND IN OUR BONES, YET THAT BELIEF IS NEVER A RESULT OF OUR INTELLECTUAL ABILITIES OR REASON, BECAUSE WE COME TO BELIEF ONLY BY THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD WHO DRAWS US TO JESUS; ONLY THEN CAN WE SEE GOD’S GIFT TO US DESCENDED FROM THE FATHER IN HEAVEN.

WHAT JESUS IS OFFERING IS NOT JUST A NEW WAY OF SEEING, BUT AN ENTIRELY NEW WAY OF BEING. THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL ATE THE GIFT OF MANNA EACH MORNING, BUT HAD TO CONSUME IT ALL BECAUSE IT WOULD FADE AWAY WITH THE RISING SUN. THEY ATE IT TO SURVIVE, BUT THEY ALL EVENTUALLY DIED. THE BREAD THAT JESUS OFFERS IS THE LIVING BREAD, AND WHOEVER EATS OF THE LIVING BREAD BECOMES A PART OF JESUS, AS JESUS BECOMES A PART OF HIM OR HER. AS HE IS ETERNAL, SO TOO THOSE WHO TRUST IN HIM SHARE IN HIS ETERNAL LIFE. IF THIS WAS NOT HARD ENOUGH FOR THE JEWS TO UNDERSTAND, JESUS AGAIN ESCALATES HIS CHALLENGE TO THEIR WORLD VIEW BY SAYING THAT “THE BREAD THAT I WILL GIVE FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD IS MY FLESH.”

THIS IS THE FIRST CLEAR ALLUSION TO HIS DEATH ON THE CROSS IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, AS WELL AS AN INTIMATION OF WHAT JESUS WILL ESTABLISH AT HIS LAST SUPPER. THE EUCHARIST CAN NOT BE SEPARATED FROM THE CRUCIFIXION, FOR THE LIVING BREAD WE RECEIVE EACH WEEK WAS GIVEN FOR THE WORLD IN THE SAVING DEATH OF OUR LORD.

WHEN WE ARE DRAWN TO JESUS BY THE GRACE OF THE FATHER, OUR CONFIRMATION BIAS IS AND MUST BE BROKEN, AND WE ARE OPENED TO A NEW VISION OF OURSELVES AND OF THE WORLD. WE COME TO KNOW, BY KNOWING JESUS, THAT GOD IS ACTING IN WAYS WE COULD NOT SEE BEFORE, NOR EVEN IMAGINE. I WAS PLEASANTLY SURPRISED THIS WEEK WHEN I READ ABOUT WHAT POPE FRANCIS SAID ABOUT DIVORCED AND REMARRIED ROMAN CATHOLICS. IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, HE ASSERTED THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE EXCOMMUNICATED, AND DENYING THEM THE EUCHARIST MAKES THEM SECOND CLASS CATHOLICS. HE SAID THERE SHOULD BE SOME WAY TO BRING THEM BACK TO THE FULLNESS OF THE FAITH. THUS, IN SUCH A SIMPLE STATEMENT, HE CHALLENGED THE ESTABLISHED TEACHING AND DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH WHICH HE LEADS. HE HAS GIVEN MANY OF THE CARDINALS AND BISHOPS A REAL HEADACHE AS HE CONFRONTS THE CONFIRMATION BIAS OF THOSE WHO ARE SO CERTAIN THEY ARE RIGHT IN DENYING THE MEANS OF GRACE TO ANYONE.

WHEN WE FEED ON THE LIVING BREAD, AND, AS STEVE SAID, TRUST IN JESUS IN OUR HEART AND IN OUR BONES, WE COME TO KNOW THAT GOD IS NOT LOCKED AWAY IN A TEMPLE SOMEWHERE; NOT EVEN HERE AT GRACE CATHEDRAL. HE IS EVER ACTIVE IN THIS WORLD, PROVIDING THE BREAD OF LIFE FOR THE WORLD THROUGH THE RISEN LORD, AND THROUGH THOSE WHO TRUST IN HIM. THROUGH CHRIST, WE ARE BECOME THE BREAD FOR THE WORLD, GIVING OF OUR SELVES AS HE GAVE HIMSELF FOR US. WHY SOME CAN NOT OR WILL NOT BE DRAWN TO JESUS, WHY SOME ACTIVELY OPPOSE THE CHRIST, AND EVEN PERSECUTE HIS FOLLOWERS, IS SURELY A SIGN THAT THE ADVERSARY, WHILE DEFEATED ON THE CROSS, IS STILL ACTIVE IN THIS LIFE. WE, WHO HAVE BEEN DRAWN TO JESUS BY THE GRACE OF THE FATHER, ARE TO BE IMITATORS OF GOD IN CHRIST, LOVING ALL AS CHRIST LOVED ALL; TO INCLUDE THOSE WHO ACTIVELY OPPOSE AND REJECT HIM, AS HE LOVED EVEN THOSE WHO MURMURED AGAINST HIM.

SO LET US EVER FEED ON THE LIVING BREAD THAT CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, FOR HE IS THE GIFT OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD, AND, THROUGH HIM, LET US BE GOD’S GIFT TO ALL. AMEN.

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