Greg: Maybe I'm on the way out, and in two years I'll be living in another paradigm and won't be able to imagine why I was ever here. but right now I'm still here,- it's all the reality I've got; even if it is falling apart. I don't think that's it though. The thing is that the totality of the Faith still attracts me.
Greg: In John 6, which is where the current lectionary is at, there is a kind of promise of more than just the tradition that is failing to feed me.
Jan: So God still speaks in Scripture?
Greg: if you tussle with any text that is beyond the denatured myths of Hollywood then there is some likelihood it will expose you to more of what is real. These texts in the New Testament have been a big part of my life- it doesn't just stop.
Anyway, in John 6 you have John take one of the early stories of Jesus- it's in Mark's gospel some 30 years before... and the story says Jesus has a big crowd in a remote place and he does this miracle feed. Five loaves and two fishes feed 5000 people. The original story as Mark told it had overtones of "Heaven when the Messiah comes." The story then was... I mean the cultural expectation... was that the Messiah would come and feed people in the wilderness in a mighty feast.
John's Gospel really plays this aspect up. It was near the Passover, he says, to remind people of the seminal story of their religion, which is about being taken out of slavery. And he tells an Exodus story. In the original people follow Moses out into the wilderness and he feeds them with bread from heaven.. which is the manna story. He goes up the mountain and gives them the five books of the Law. He takes them across the (Red) sea and eventually they reach the promised land.
This is all echoed in the way John re-tells the traditional story of Jesus feeding the 5000. He goes up the mountain and sits down. This is the echo of Moses the Lawgiver. There are five loaves for the five books of the Law. The people sit in the way the messianic feasts were imagined... in the grassy places... and there is food to spare... 12 baskets full for the 12 tribes of Israel. And unlike Moses who parted the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus walks over the top of the water and all the threatening unconscious power which it symbolises. (John calls it Lake Tiberias too. Does Jesus stride out over the Roman superpower as well?)
The bread, of course, is like the manna, the God-sent food in the wilderness. He strongly claims he is the real bread or the living bread. Manna was only a precursor to him... or given John's hostility to the Jewish establishment, he is saying I am the real bread. Follow me in this new way to find the real truth.
Jan: That's a neat bit of exegesis, but what's it mean for today?
Greg: I think the whole chapter is about two things. One is this thing of 'transition', if you like. It points up the inadequacy of the present world view, and claims to offer a new better one. The second thing (I guess it's part of the one thing) is that it severely critiques the way a lot of people related to their religion... and still do today. Actually it's probably the key problem with a lot of the church.
See... he hops into the people chasing him around the lake because they just wanted to get more bread. It's the religion for profit thing... get something out of following God. Do right by God and there is a reward... you get healed or you get rich... or all your problems will go away... or something. In my case... the world will make sense and I won't always have to struggle between confusion and depression.
What he does is squarely claim to be living bread in a new way. The end of the chapter is about Communion. It's like saying that the reality of living bread, the reality of finding something meaningful and satisfying in life is not to get like "the answer" or an answer, but to fully eat him and be sort of subsumed by him. Easy answers is like the people who wanted more bread and didn't really see what he was doing and what it meant.
Jan: That doesn't sound like Uniting Church grape juice that's past its use by date and got bread crumbs floating on top!
Greg: Yeah, I know! We devalue communion a bit so it doesn't have the mystical emotional impact it might have at "5am on the 8th day of the week and maybe you'll get killed for this!" But the lesson is there that there is not an answer to see in write-down-able terms. The answer is in the experience of communion with ultimate reality.
Jan: Not communion with Jesus?
Greg: John obviously claims Jesus is the Way to Ultimate Reality. That's what he had found. Maybe you can be a Bob Brown and commune with nature... you'd have to ask him if that is a channel to ultimate reality... but I think you have to commune with something.
Jan: Yet you have this in/out off/on relationship with the Faith. Sometimes I see you hugely depressed, other times you inspire people!
Greg: Mmm. At the end of chapter 6 a lot of people decide they want the easy way of life... some kind of direct and comfortable answer... "real bread you can touch" sort of thing. It says many disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
"So Jesus asked the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?'
"Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.'"
These words have stuck in my head since I first read them years ago. Not the eternal life stuff, but the "to whom else can we go?" At one level it's one more messianic claim for Jesus. But it's also a very modern man's statement.. where else can we go? I feel like that. What else is on offer? I'm old enough now to now there are no other answers.
What I'm trying to say is there are other overtly religious answers. But they're either the kind of easy answer, fresh bread religion Jesus correctly wrote off... I mean I know he's right... I've experienced some of them... Or else, they're "John's Jesus equivalents." That is, they have different imagery and traditions but they seem to point to this same seeking somehow to commune with Ultimate Reality that I see Jesus talking about.
And there are other "non-religious" answers which either end up being a real effort at communion, or they're just "get rich" and "who has the most toys wins" kind of crap.
So to whom else can we go?
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