Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” With this we come to the conclusion of five Sundays focusing of the feeding of the 5,000 and its meaning. All the people who have been following Jesus, crisscrossing the Sea of Galilee several times, take offense at what he says and leave. Only the Twelve are remain.
Jesus does not make it easy for the multitude. His language seems intentionally designed to confound and repulse. “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.” Actually, “eats” is not the most accurate translation. The verb Jesus uses literally means “to gnaw.” “The one who gnaws on my flesh…” The cannibalistic overtones alone are offensive enough, but there is more. The bible strictly forbids the eating of flesh with its blood still in it because it associates blood with life. Those who hear Jesus take his words to be blasphemous and an abhorrent violation of God’s commandments. Sure, Jesus gave them food so they all ate and were satisfied, but even this sign is not enough for them to stomach his teaching.
Do you also wish to go away?
I mentioned a few weeks ago I have been re-reading Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Travelled. In it he talks about the process of transference:
Transference is that set of ways of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood and which is usually appropriate to the childhood environment (indeed, often life-saving), but which is inappropriately transferred into the adult world.
He describes a patient who, as a child, was constantly disappointed by his parents. They forgot his birthday, didn’t follow through on a weekend trip, and never got him a promised bicycle. Gradually he learned he could not trust his parents and remarkably accepting this realization made his young world a better and safer place for him. The problem was he transferred this into adulthood, holding to the notion you can’t trust people. As a result, he could not hold down a steady job and his marriage failed.
Peck calls an idea like “I can’t trust my parents” and “I can’t trust other people” a ‘map’ by which we navigate life. There are nearly as many different maps as there are people. One person’s map may indicate “God will love me no matter what I do” while another’s may state “God will be angry with me if I make a mistake.” If we are going to pursue what is true about life we must be open to challenge what we believe because the maps we carry can and do become outdated.
Challenge and change can be a very scary proposition. It is easier to cling to the known, to the tried even if not true, than to set off into unchartered waters. Peck contends there is only one single impediment to spiritual growth – laziness. Summarizing his book in the late chapters he writes:
In examining discipline we were considering the laziness of attempting to avoid necessary suffering, or taking the easy way out. In examining love we were also examining the fact that nonlove is the unwillingness to extend one’s self. Laziness is love’s opposite. Spiritual growth is effort.
Peck contends laziness is the original sin residing in each one of us. Adam and Eve were lazy because they did not challenge the words of the serpent. Their spiritual growth and health required them to go to God and ask more questions about the command not to eat the forbidden fruit; to test the words of God against the words of the serpent. Either they were not willing or did not see the value of mustering the energy necessary to question their maps. Laziness is not about how hard or how little you work. It is about your willingness to engage or to avoid spiritual growth and health.
All of this provides a helpful lens through which to ponder today’s reading. The multitudes following Jesus all around Galilee are operating off outdated maps. Jesus needs to demonstrate who he is if his words are to be believed, but when he feeds the masses they want to make him their king. They want to shoehorn him into their map of a messianic political figure sent from God to liberate them from foreign control.
For four weeks now we have listened to Jesus challenge them with his new vision of the Bread of Life and what he has to offer. For four weeks now we have sensed they do not get it. They do not understand this new sacramental thinking and how it can lead to spiritual growth and health. They are content with sacrificing the flesh and blood of animals. They cannot conceive of consuming God’s flesh and blood as a means of life and eternal life. So the walk away offended, disappointed, and… lost in their laziness.
So Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter, in his most shining moment, answers, “To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know you are the Holy One of God.” The remaining disciples are open to challenge and willing to do the work required for growth. The creedal statement we have come “to believe and know you are the Holy One” is interesting. It is worth noting belief comes before knowledge. You have got to believe in the process before you experience the results. You have to put your trust in God before growth can happen. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to change before change begins to take root. Or you can just walk away.