Sunday, August 2, 2015

Raise Your Mind

So we're in the middle of the sixth chapter of John's gospel, and we often just call this John 6. John 6 contains strong, even undeniable, Eucharistic overtones, and it's actually much better to read John 6 as a whole, but reading it in parts like we are on these several Sundays right now allows us to focus on specific portions of the story. And in today's section, Jesus is working to get his audience to think about higher and loftier things so that they are prepared for what follows. So that's our job for today. We have to think about higher things.

And this whole discussion centers around bread-earthly bread and heavenly bread. So in the chronology of the story, Jesus has fed 5,000 people just the day before, and then over the night he walked on the water during the story. So twenty four hours, and Jesus is looking pretty awesome. I don't know if you or I have ever had a day that good. So walking on the water brought him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the people weren't going to let him escape that easily. So they got into their own boats and followed him, and our Gospel today picks up with the crowds finding Jesus and the conversation that follows.

And this dialogue is very important, so let's look closely and try to understand what's going on. They start by saying to him, "When did you get here," and they're kind of beating around the bush. The crowds are looking for Jesus because he can throw a good picnic on a tight budget, but they're missing the point that the healings and the feedings that Jesus does are just signs that point to who he is. They're not getting the point, so today Jesus is going to start teaching them. He starts by cutting through the crap and he basically says, "You're looking for me because you ate a miraculous meal yesterday."

Place yourself in the position of this crowd. Jesus is going to try to get them to elevate their minds to something higher, because they're just thinking about the physical. They're thinking they had a good meal yesterday, and they were full yesterday, but now they're hungry again. And Jesus is saying that's not the point. Food that perishes is not the point; it's a sign of something that will last forever. So he says, "Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." When Jesus says Son of Man, it's a reference to something divine, even the Jews know this, so then he tells them how to do the works of God: believing in the one that God sent.

Now they sense that he might be comparing himself to Moses, maybe even setting himself above Moses, so they say, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?" Basically, they're asking for his credentials. If Jesus is going to compare himself to Moses, they’re going to need more evidence. In their mind Moses was kind of the top dog, because as they understand it, Moses was the one who fed their ancestors with manna from heaven while they were wandering in the desert, and that's what we hear about in the first reading.

I love the Israelites in the first reading because they're just so human. God has sent plagues to Egypt to save them, he killed a whole generation of Egyptians to save them, he parted a sea and drowned an army to save them, and now that they're in the desert and a little hungry they think they've been led out here to die. But of course God loves them even when they act like whiny teenagers, and so God, not Moses, sends food to sustain them on their journey.

But as time goes one, the Jews got it backwards and started giving Moses credit for this bread from heaven, because they are prone to only consider the earthly and lowly. So now Jesus is here to teach them, because he needs them to understand that the manna they ate in the desert didn't actually come from Moses, it came from God the Father who was now offering them a better bread for a bigger journey. The manna in the desert was only earthly food, although it had a heavenly origin, and it could only sustain them on an earthly journey. Now, he wants to offer them a heavenly food that can sustain them on an eternal journey. This is why he needs them to lift their minds to higher things. This is why Jesus needs us to lift our minds to higher things, because we are on a journey that doesn't end with this earth.

So Jesus says to the Jews, and he says to us, "The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Bread that comes from heaven and can give life to the whole world is a pretty good deal, so naturally the crowd says, "Sir, give us this bread always." And that's when Jesus begins the big teaching. He has held their hand and guided them to it by pointing their minds to something higher than normal earthly bread, and now they are prepared to hear him say, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

This is the sort of thing that separates Jesus's true followers from those in the crowd who are just looking for another free meal. This separates those who follow him as God from those who just think he is a good teacher. This separates those who have a heavenly view of the world from those who can't look above the worldly. Because no good teacher ever says, "I am the bread of life; I am the source of every good thing and every holy longing in this world." No soup kitchen ever says, "If you eat my food you will never be hungry again." Only the Son of Man can say this.

My friends, we have to elevate our vision above the natural, above the earthly. We have to recognize that our time on this earth is not meaningless, that our existence is not random. Each of us has been willed into existence by God in order to be loved by God, both in this life and in the life to come. We are on a heavenly journey; we are on a journey towards heaven. And so, every decision we make should be in keeping with that goal, because it is possible to miss our intended goal of heaven. Hell is a real place. If we continually choose lowly and earthly paths that lead us away from our intended goal of heaven, thinking we'll focus on heaven sometime down the road, we can miss heaven altogether. And so every decision in our life, big and small, needs to keep heaven as our goal. We gather together every Sunday not so much to share in community, although that is indispensable, but to receive heavenly nourishment that we can't get anywhere else. Let every decision of your life, starting with where you spend your Sunday morning and then filtering down into every decision of your life, have heaven as its goal.

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