I have been thinking lately about how the Gospel of John presents Jesus' language to his disciples and the crowds following him. For example, in today's reading, Jesus says:
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."--John 6:35
Taken on face value, this statement would be a clear indication that if you believe in Jesus, you will never have hunger or thirst again. And for many, this statement is one which has been used to say, "Anybody who does not believe in Jesus will starve to death!" But what I see in this statement is the same sentiments that Jesus expresses over and over: "It's not about me! It's about God!"
Again, in our reading from today, the people standing around listening to him, most likely the Temple leaders, start trying to rip apart what he's saying by noting that they know "Who's his daddy" (Joseph) and continue to see Jesus as the flesh and blood man that he is. Where does he get off talking about being the bread that came down from heaven. He's just a man!
And, in part, they're right: he is a man. But, again, Jesus once more takes the argument and tries to turn it back to God.
Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 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. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life."--John 6: 43-47.
As I listened to this portion of the gospel, I found my mind actually reversing some of the order of the statement. What I mean by that is what came to mind as I was listening was that those who will be drawn to Jesus are those who are hearing God... learning from God... and are drawing nearer to God. They haven't seen God standing in front of them as flesh and blood (at least they don't think they have). But those who have felt God... God the Father in this case... are the ones drawing near Jesus. And those who believe in that power, that stillness, that "way" in whatever "way" it is that God has reached them... are the ones who are gaining eternal life. These words, I believe, are true even today. Those who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of God, will be drawn near. They will be touched (not physically, but metaphorically) and brought to a place of eternal life in God. And, as Episcopalian, this comes "through Jesus Christ our Lord."
But then, for me, the real kicker comes at the conclusion of Jesus' teaching and attempts to re-direct the fascination away from himself, the flesh and blood man, to the Father who sent him:
"I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The operative phrases in the above are, "I am". I'm reminded that in the Old Testament, God identifies God's self as, "I am". Hence, in the gospel of John, those constant refrains of "I am the bread of life", "I am the vine", "I am the way" I don't read or hear in them, "I, Jesus Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, born in a manger on Christmas Day, am the be all and end all of all things." More like I hear Jesus saying, "Substitute 'God' where you see 'I am'." Suddenly, the sentences read, "God the bread of life" "God the vine" "God the way". And I think this is really what Jesus was trying to impart in all the Gospels: this isn't about me, the flesh and blood man, this is about the divine, the me that is from God. Get back to God!!
In the case of John the evangelist, it would seem this is an important part of his theological reasoning and why he would have put any of this thinking out there in the first place. His gospel, authored long after the resurrection and the writings and teachings of others were part of the consciousness of the time, is making the assertion of Jesus as "The Word made flesh", as "God made man in manifest." And, given the growing tensions inside the temples at the time of John, this assertion was meant to embolden those Jews who were believers in Christ. Hence, this is how John's gospel seems to have been interpreted by some as justification for the heinous acts committed centuries later in the name of Christianity against the Jews. Words can be powerful, and dangerous things, if employed for the means of bolstering prejudice, division and hatred.
"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."--Ephesians 4:29
Rather than see Jesus as giving us the go-ahead as Christians to hold ourselves up as superior, see what he is trying so hard to do: make us conscience, aware, and followers of the Father who sent him. Because it is through walking that path that we will gain life in God!