Jesus said to them, “I, I am the bread of life; the one who comes to me will not hunger, and the one who believes in me will not thirst at any time…And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble with one another. No one is able to come to me if the father, the one who sent me, does not draw them...It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ All the ones who heard and learned from the father come to me (John 6:35, 43-45; translation mine)
The tension of the paradox embedded in this portion of our Gospel passage is palpable. Jesus explains in v. 35, “The one who comes to me will neither hunger nor will they thirst ever again…” And then Jesus adds, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws them.” This is the divine, “You can’t get there from here.” “Come to me but only if you’ve been called.” “I’m calling your name, but only if you’ve been given ears to hear me.” In this verbal moment, those who are listening to Jesus are all stuck in a maroon sedan, unable to get to the location they want to get to: satiating bread and thirst quenching water. The destination is so close and also so far away, it’s right there within reach and just beyond our grasp. These verses highlight that the people Jesus is addressing are very much in a bad way; they’re stuck. Like Nicodemus before them in John 3, “How can anyone…?”
We’re stuck, too. We spend most of our days endlessly running and running and running, and the entire time we are going absolutely nowhere. Days bleed into each other, the same thing over and over and over again, the distinction that used to be big and bold between Thursday night and Friday night has nearly vanished—weekdays and weekends are all just days. Demands come and demands are met; and again, tomorrow, those same demands will come trouncing back in to your life, asking to be met with the same answers and actions once again. Day in and day out we are chained to the treadmill of life that forces us to run at a demanding pace, that causes us to slowly and surely turn in on ourselves so much that we eventually begin looking like tightly coiled springs that are made of flesh and bone.
We live in the paradox of being “alive” but also very dead at the same time. We’re stuck in an endless cycle that is death pretending to be life—we joke, “Life, am I right?” We comfort others and ourselves as we run about this rat-race with contrite phrases and some version of, “misery loves company” and console ourselves into accepting that this living death as living life. But it’s not, it’s no joke, and it’s certainly no comfort. And, I ‘m not speaking of the monotony of life. And, I’m not speaking against various forms of self-improvement. What I’m speaking of is the striving after our own self-justification, the desperate activity we employ to make ourselves “ok” not only in our own eyes but in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God; I’m speaking against our frantic and frenetic activity that is the hallmark of the sham existence that is desperately trying to stave off the reality that death (in its myriad of existential forms) comes and your helpless. No matter how much food we eat or how much water we drink, death still comes; to think we can avoid death through any of our own actions is to attempt to grasp oil with the hand. This type of striving and living is a sham living, and is a living version of death; and it is very real.
We’re the walking dead and no wonder most of us were riveted to that show for months and months—it strikes very close to home.
The worst part of all of what I’ve been describing is that we’re hopeless to remedy the situation of a living-deadness in and of ourselves; we’re helpless to help ourselves out of this death life living. No Zombie can unzombify itself; the walking dead have no hope apart from the quick activity of a sharp blade. No one stuck on a treadmill of life can just turn the treadmill off and take a break because this treadmill doesn’t have an on/off switch or a pause button; and it’s ill advised to just step off because that way lies either certain disfiguring injury or death. We’re stuck, very stuck unless someone trips us up and throws our incurvatus in se focus out of alignment. Anyone who comes to me will never thirst or hunger again…but the ones who come only come because the Father draws them. Apart from some miracle of radical intervention, we can’t get there from here.
We live in the paradox of being “alive” but also very dead at the same time.
We need an intervention and that intervention takes the form of having our dire state exposed and revealed to us. It’s not until we get the right diagnosis that we can then get the very help we need. In our gospel passage from John, Jesus is the one who has come down from heaven to reveal to us God and to give the dry bones, the walking dead life, true life—not the living deadness we call life. Jesus is the Revealer, the one who has descended into our plight, exposes our dire situation, calls us to him, feeds us with the bread of life, quenches our thirst with living water (John 4), sends the darkness permanently fleeing with his light (John 1:5), and summons the dead to life.
We can’t get there from here. But the good news is God crosses the vast distance to us. The incarnate word, the word made flesh, Christ the Revealer, descends from heaven and crosses the sea to us. No matter how much we think that demand rests on our shoulders, it doesn’t. You can’t climb up into heaven and you can’t walk across water (especially because this is the south and large bodies of water don’t fully freeze…). The paradox and tension embedded in our gospel passage is real but it is of great comfort, too. God has descended, God has come down from heaven and has entered into our world, not hovered a bit above it or dwell about over in the sidelines, but into it, in it, in the midst of the people.
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