November 14, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from John 6:66-71.
As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.
Why did John make such a point at this time to refer to his betrayer, identified by John as Judas? Jesus repeated his announcement at the last supper in chapter 13 and the betrayal doesn’t take place until chapter 18. Why did John connect him to those disciples who left Jesus and returned to their former lives?
Is it to remind us that evil is always in our midst? That we should fear that we are in constant danger of being handed over? Or is it to meant to show us that there is always a part of us that refuses the way of the cross, dying to our own selfishness and self-sacrifice? Or is it to illustrate that contrary to Peter’s faith there is always a part of us that questions whether Jesus is the son of God? Any of those can be true for me on some days.
It is always easier to turn away, to return to where I was than to continue to walk with Jesus. Do I still entertain those options? Have I come as far as Peter had in this story to realize that I have no where else to go, that I am not going to give myself any alternatives, an easier way?
I’m dealing with a situation right now that makes these verses take on a new meaning for me. It’s a project that I was asked to take the lead on for my professional association. This is not a spiritual project, but it is an act of service. I assembled a group and our initial meeting was creative, energized, and collegial. We’ve presented our plan to the executive committee. There have been no negative reactions to the substance of our proposal or the process to be undertaken. However, there have been very negative comments about me personally. I was stunned and hurt. I concluded that I would wash my hands of the whole thing; I don’t need this in my life. That’s what I told the chair of the organization this morning.
Am I being like the disciples who walked away because these words were too hard to hear? Do I just want to return to an easier life? Or is Jesus calling me to continue on a more difficult path, to expose myself to more criticism, to confront negativity with a positive, affirming attitude and behavior that reflects his command to accept, love, and forgive? Is he calling me to use the gifts God has given me? Is he reminding me that divisions within community can be dealt with in two ways — walking away or striving to live the gospel message?
Maybe I’m trying to stretch this gospel reading too much to fit my circumstances today, but I do believe that God’s word is meant for me every day and in all situations. He wasn’t just speaking to the Jews and Gentiles living in the culture of their time two thousand years ago. If He were, what would be the point of the Bible? Judas can be taken as a symbol of those who betray Jesus, the word of God. Am I cast in the role of betrayer if I turn my back on this project? I’m leaning toward that conclusion because I have been feeling a little down all day. That’s always a sign that my spirit is uneasy; that it is not at peace.
So, I’m going for a run and pray as a disciple who chooses to accompany Jesus to see where he leads me. I’m getting this motivation from Barclay who writes, “In the last analysis Christianity is not a philosophy which we accept, nor a theory to which we give allegiance. It is a personal response to Jesus Christ. It is the allegiance and the love which a man gives because his heart will not allow him to to anything else.”