When my Father told me that Derby County were the best football team in the land, I believed him. And that`s the way it is, isn`t it? In our childhood state, we believe all manner of things “because my Dad says so”. And we do so because essentially, we think much more about the one who`s speaking than the things they say. “He`s my Dad”. He`s my Dad, after all.
Of course, it doesn`t stay that way. The time comes when we think a bit more about what they are saying than who is saying it; and we begin to think and to question. We develop what we call “a mind of our own”. And so, over time, I was no longer so sure about Derby County. I discovered Manchester United.
Now, we refer to it as becoming an adult, don`t we? There`s nothing inherently wrong in all of this; but of course, setting ourselves up as the judge of all things in this way isn`t without its pitfalls. I mean, I was thinking about how our Lord wrestles with these things in the Gospels. So, time and again, we see him talking to the crowds. He tells them a lot of things about the Kingdom, the mercy and reign of God and it`s clear that his very `adult` hearers, hear a lot of things they like; especially when he takes a poke at the Pharisees. For a while, he gathered quite a following. But of course, (and this is the point) they are always measuring him. And it`s part of the humility of the Lord that he allows it. Again, they liked a lot of what he said. However, we sense that they were listening only to what he said. They weren`t so sure about who he is. And that`s where they come unstuck.
In John`s Gospel, Jesus tells us (John 6.53-56)” ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Again, this is the Jesus that said a lot of things people liked. This is the Jesus that ticked so many boxes. But this? This is the point where the game is up.
No, his disciples (no less!), in their incredulous state complain, “‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” (John 6.60) Essentially, this was crazy, unthinkable, even disgusting stuff. Jesus no longer measured up. And so, they walked away. But we can tell that Jesus understands the game. Because, he doesn`t retract anything of what he said. He doubles down and asks the twelve if they`re going to leave as well.
So, at the heart of this incident is a choice. They (and we) are called to decide: “Are you going to continue to measure me by what you find acceptable?” Are you going to continue to judge everything I say, one thing at a time; taking the stuff you like, leaving the rest behind?” Or are you going to believe me because I say it?
Of course, it`s Peter who responds for the twelve. He says, “‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6.68-69) Notice how Peter homes in on Jesus`s identity. “the Holy One of God”. Peter seems to get it. Because it`s Peter who now abandons himself to the mystery of a God who won`t make sense on his terms. It`s Peter who effectively says, “I really don`t understand what you are saying or how it works but I believe you, because you say so” .
I believe that being your disciple is not about what I can fit into my head; since a lot of what you say simply won`t, anyway. And it`s not about picking and choosing what I find acceptable or what I can figure out. No, it`s all about you”.
Where`s this going? Well, I`ve been wondering whether this is what Peter had learnt on the Transfiguration mountain, in the mist? A voice came, ” ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’“ (Matthew 17.5). Again, it`s who Jesus is that matters. “I believe because he says it”.
How very different the faith of so many of us here would be if we would stop over-thinking things. How different it would be if we stopped trying to figure it all out in terms of our own making. If we begin by fretting over creeds and doctrines; we`re beginning in the wrong place.
How would it be, if instead, like Peter, we simply allowed ourselves to fall in love with Jesus? I`m suggesting that faith blooms (really blooms!) when we move from wresting with what we can believe; or what we find acceptable out of a range of Christian things; to believing a person.
So, for example, on one level, when Jesus says “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” it is utterly preposterous! The question is, “What happens when you listen; not so much to the words but to the one who is saying them? I would suggest that everything changes. So, perhaps it`s about time we simply learned to take Jesus at his word.