Reflection John 6: 56-69
We come to the final part of John chapter 6 – this long section in which Jesus responds to the questions and challenges of the crowd who simply do not get the deeper meaning in what Jesus is saying.
The scene is now Capernaum, and in the synagogue but it is the disciples, the students / followers of Jesus who now ask the question – “the teaching is too hard: who can accept it?”
Jesus then goes on in a way which suggests that our faith is not actually of our choosing – either the Father has granted us faith or He has not! These verses can then get used to support a very hard form of Calvinism and a doctrine of election. Some of us have been chosen and some of us have not – God has already ordained it!
Later in the Gospel Jesus will say “You did not choose me, but I chose you”, which might appear to reinforce this view but.. . At the beginning of the Gospel, Andrew follows Jesus because of what John the Baptist has said, and Andrew then tells Simon who becomes a disciple; we also see Philip sharing with Nathanael, and in Ch 3 Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night with his questions; in chapter 4 the Samaritan woman tells her village about Jesus. Mission is very definitely about our witness to others and their responding. There is a freedom and choice in those who are invited, those who hear either Jesus or his disciple saying “Come!”
So what then of this idea that we can only come to Jesus if the Father grants it. As we grow in our faith, we could decide we are rather special because we have understood, and we are rather special because we are Christians. We are special, but only because of what God has done for us and in us. We discover we are gifted with faith – that God has taken hold of us, more than that we have taken hold of God.
There is a tension which we know in our own lives. Sometimes we feel full of doubt, full of inadequacy – we need to know that God has hold of us – he does (none can pluck them from my hand). At other times we may feel too blasé about out status with God, too cock-sure, too “I’m ok”, and at that point we need to be gently and firmly reminded that God is holy, that it is only by grace that we are saved, “we do not presume to come to this table trusting in our own righteousness..” as the prayer puts it.
I am not a better person because in some way I have understood the gospel and you have not. I am a fortunate person to have been given the gift of faith, to have been held onto by God, who I have discovered loves me.
And at the same time as the invitation from Jesus, is the challenge to follow him, and this is another tension we have to hold rather than try and separate it. Invitation and Challenge. In the reading the wider group of disciples now start to leave – the teaching is too difficult. Some people with great honesty, will hear the call of Jesus but decide it is too hard, too demanding, too uncertain.
Jesus asked his disciples – Do you also want to go away? Jesus invites us to follow, but he gives permission for us to leave. Or rather he asks the question a different way. What is our answer to his question “Do you also want to go away?” What is our reason for staying? Peter says: “You have the words of eternal life; You are the Holy One of God.” is that our answer?
Rev’d Peter Reiss