“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and live and walk in the way of insight [wisdom].” Proverbs 9:5-6 “ I am the living bread … my flesh …true flesh … unless you eat of my flesh.” John 6. This week we consider Jesus as the bread of life from the Wisdom perspective and begin to consider what it means to consume and be consumed rather than merely to believe in Jesus, to accept Jesus not only as Lord and Saviour but also as Teacher and Companion on the Way of Life.
We have spent the last four weeks exploring the image of Jesus as the bread of life. You would think there would be nothing left to say but there is always another layer. This week’s reading (RCL Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58) has both the beauty of the invitation to life in Jesus, to abide in him as he abides in the Father, and the difficulty of his teachings which led some of his disciples to stop following. Both responses to the invitation of Jesus are realistic. Sometimes we might do well to admit how hard the teachings of Jesus are, how confounding the truths of Jesus are, and how demanding being a follower is. We are called to nothing less than transformation.
But firstly let’s explore the image of abiding in Jesus as he does in God. It is very poetic but a bit obscure. This is one of the metaphors of what it means to be living a life based deeply in relationship with God through Jesus where is actually works better to be a bit literal. I thought I understood the image better after visiting the opal mining community of Cooper Peedy in remote Australia where many live underground. The residents literally live or abide in the earth. Every aspect of their ordinary domestic life takes place within the embrace of the earth compared to most of us who perch on top of the earth and often, to the great detriment of the earth herself and many of her poorer peoples, live quite disassociated from the earth and her needs and wisdom. Those who live underground, who abide in the earth, live in Australia in a way the rest of us do not. The same might be said of the people of Cappadocia in Turkey where many live in homes that are burrowed into the very surrounding earth and into the side of hills. And I recall the beauty and intrigue of the cliff dwellings in the Mesa Verde in Colorado.
It struck me as quite a good image of what it means to live or abide in God. That is, every aspect of our ordinary life is lived burrowed within the love and purposes of God. Which is quite different to conventional understandings in which we try to be on our best behaviour with God on special occasions. We are being invited into something much more intimate and all consuming and in some ways much more mundane. One thread of ancient Wisdom teaching, as we find in Proverbs, includes the very practical and moral applications of Wisdom in good decisions about how to live ordinary lives and how to relate to ordinary members of the community as well as how to live as followers of the Living God.
Which is why of course some of those who had followed Jesus to hear his teachings will decide that the teaching is too hard (in next week’s portion of John). The teaching is hard, it is all consuming and no wonder some decided that the ask was too much. Rather than judge those who turned away back then, or today, it might be more constructive to reflect on where we feel the invitation is strong and attractive now and where we feel the ask is too much and we resist. Jesus is always inviting us home even as he is beckoning us further and further into the journey toward the Divine Heart. What was too much a few years ago may be an attractive invitation now. And what was comfortable once may now be uncomfortable. Faith is always fluid and growing or diminishing with life events and the seasons of the spirit.
If faith is a journey, not an entrance exam, then abiding in Jesus is growing and groaning as we are invited and challenged to be more focused and therefore consumed by the matters of Jesus, the issues that make for life. What we pay attention to, what we consume, then consumes us. So we need to be mindful of what we focus on. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.” says Paul to the Ephesians. The way of Wisdom is not simply about being practical or good although this too is part of the Hebrew Bible’s way of Wisdom. The Wisdom tradition is portrayed as a choice for the person setting out in the ways of faith, as between responding to the enticing but ultimately destructive way of the tempting woman or the wise woman who is both a wise manager of what she is given and the provider of good food and drink. The way of Wisdom is living into the larger eternal life of God.
The Wisdom path may start with real concerns and good choices about how we live the surface of our lives but it also concerns how we follow Jesus on the inner journey of growth and letting go. For as Cynthia Bourgeault writes that after a life time of study she is convinced that Jesus came first and foremost as a teacher of the path of inner transformation.
So if we are to eat the living bread and drink the wine Wisdom has prepared for us then we shall be consumed ourselves. Consumed by desire for union with God and compassion for all; we will be consumed by hunger for the mysterious love at the heart of all that is; and consumed by the thrill and anxiety of letting go of what we thought was important in the trust that we shall find what is more important.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, and lead us on your path of transformation that we may consume and be consumed by your love for us.
This week I wish to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Cynthia Bourgeault "The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind - a New Perspective on Christ and His Message" Shambhala Publications, Boulder, 2008.