In John 6, Jesus calls himself the bread of life, which is commonplace to Christians today on this side of the resurrection, but back then it caused quite a stir. Actually, the way Jesus described himself often times drew “we have to put an end to this guy permanently”-level criticism. Think of it: scribes and religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus–to kill him!–because of what he was saying and doing. That isn’t run-of-the-mill agitation; that’s disrupting the socio-religious order in the most drastic way. To say one is the bread from heaven that will satisfy a person’s hunger for life is to make a claim to divinity of an audacious kind. And to say one has to eat him, that’s adding absurdity to audacity.
Then he’s asked an important question by his disciples: “this is a hard teaching, who can stand it?” And it says that many left him and no longer followed him. After this Jesus turns to his twelve and asks, “What about you? Will you leave me, too?” to which Peter responds dramatically, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is dramatic stuff. But the upshot is that to follow Jesus often is a lesson in believing in spite of everything we know and hold dear. Truly, he says a short while above in this episode: “the work of God is this: to believe in the one he sent.” I believe these words were also a testimony about the twelve and was validated by Peter’s response. Even now, in the wake of Jesus’ audacious claims about himself, the disciples are at a loss–but have nowhere else to go, because they’ve come to believe in something–someone–indescribable.
For us today, the command to love one’s neighbor, to love one another, is a hard teaching. Who can stand it? The command to turn the other cheek is a hard teaching, who can stand it? Who can stand the call of God to proclaim the kingdom of God when it means denouncing the spirit of the world? White supremacy is a demon that not only threatens the people of God, but has found a stable home inside our walls and halls, and our hearts. It is a part of our daily bread and devotion. Who can stand the teachings of Jesus when it demands sacrifice and death to the air we breathe, the faith we hold in false ideology–even though this is the way to resurrection and new life?
The kingdom of God is in our midst, and many have been invited; many, though, have responded, “Wait, Lord, I will follow you when I am ready. Give me time to figure out how to serve two masters…” He has sent invitations to those on the streets, in the countryside, in the crack house, the brothel, the prison cell, the graveyard–and they are willing to say yes. The kingdom of God, so unlike the kingdoms of this world–who can stand to love it? To desire it? To cherish it? To fight for it? To die for it? Who will call out the white supremacist and racist evil lurking beneath the surface of our churches?
At the end of the day, who will say, “Here I am, Lord, send me into the furnace?” Perhaps we would find that inside the flames of hate and injustice, “in the presence of our enemies”… “a fourth like the son of the gods” resides there. To whom shall we go? Lord, send me!