John 6:65 No one comes to me unless it is granted him by the Father.
Simon Peter asks a simple yet profound question. In my mind, this is the most important question Peter has asked or will ever ask Jesus. In the midst of the confusion, the dusty roads, the misunderstood teachings, and the hard to fathom reality embodied in the idea that God has come among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; Peter asks, “Where would we go?” What would we do? Who would we be without you? Lord, where would we go?
There is another, unspoken and underlying question preceding Peter’s query. Simon Peter, the Rock, is also asking, “Lord, where would we be?” Inherent in asking the question to Jesus, “Where do we go tomorrow?” is another question, “Where would be today?” Because, brothers and sisters, the premise is the same, “without you, there is no me”.
We have come this far. Oh yes, we have come this far. At this point, the disciples see the challenges are going to increase, the level of difficulty will skyrocket, and what they imagined discipleship to be isn’t the lived reality. Jesus has been teaching and feeding, both literally and metaphorically. In his old synagogue at Capernaum, perhaps the closest thing to going back to his old high school, Jesus says for the umpteenth time: the bread you got from Moses was different. I am the bread giver and the bread. Jesus knew this would stir people up, make them angry, offend people, and turn many people against him. Yet this was who he was, this was his message, his consistent message. Jesus wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t said countless times before in synagogues up and down the country. But, there was something different about doing it on “home turf” in Capernaum.
It was like laying down a marker. This is who I am, Jesus said. If he can’t say it there, where can he say it? So he does. John tells us the disciples were grumbling about his sermon. Some English translations take the lazy, watered down approach to the Greek and say, “they murmured” about Jesus’ sermon.
This is Richard’s Excedrin headache number 4271 on how we lose the impact of the language when translators play fast and loose with the language to protect our feelings. The word, gonguzousin, literally means to grumble. Don’t be a gongusouzin(er)!
The disciples were grumbling at Jesus. How do you think Jesus feels about the disciples grumbling at his sermon (material they know and have even preached before) while in his hometown synagogue? Do you believe he’s feeling positive, upbeat, affirmed, loved, supported, over the moon, encouraged? Essentially Jesus says, “What more do I need to do reveal to you guys to get you to see the big plan? You’ve seen me feed 5000 people and still you’re moaning?”
You’ve either got it in you to do this or not. At this moment, Jesus is past the point of grand miracles and elaborate arguments. You either want to come along or not. That’s what he means, when he says, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus is not saying I am the only way for anyone to enter heaven. I don’t believe that. Nor do I believe that’s what his verse means.
My reading of this passage (in context) simply doesn’t support the “the only way to get to Heaven is through Me” interpretation. Take the verse out of context and you can run with the “everyone but Christians are going to hell) ball all day long. I do not believe this is what Jesus meant. He’s saying to those disciples and to us, if you want to go with him and do his thing, we have the free choice to go with him. We also have the choice to do something else. We have the choice to make a journey. We do not know how or when that journey will end. This is good enough me. I believe that God is part and parcel of our journey whether we’re aware of God’s presence or not. In today’s reading, Peter has become hyper-aware.
Yes, we can do something else. But as Peter’s question reveals, there is no something else. Where would we go? What are our options?
We are not forming an exploratory committee, like some long shot presidential candidate to see if it’s feasible to be a disciple if the money’s right and the focus groups say yes. We do not have an option. Where would we go?
We are not sitting at the breakfast table watching Jim Cantore tell us the story of a developing hurricane, its potential paths of destruction, and deciding if we might leave, if we might stay, and await the mighty force of nature to descend upon us. We don’t have a real option. There are no choices. Where would we go?
We are not leaning over the back of a fishing boat, holding an expensive rod and reel, pulling and fighting with the biggest fish you’ve ever seen, when dark clouds form on the horizon, the waves start to roll, and the captain says do you want to get back to Silver Lake Harbor? We don’t have a choice. Because where would we go?
When we have come this far, where would we go?
Look to Jesus-not the antiseptic, deodorized, whitewashed Jesus of popular culture. I’m talking about the Jesus we meet in the Bible. Look at Jesus, right here in John 6. Jesus, who was called offensive and harsh because he said controversial things like life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Jesus was called harsh for asserting life exists beyond reality as we know it and that love can change the world beyond life as we know it. It sounds crazy to us that people would come down on the Son of God; Jesus of Nazareth for saying life exists beyond reality as we know it. But here’s what’s crazier, we do the same thing today. In ways large and small, we take the blessed realities of Christian and love and condemn them as unworkable, unfeasible, and unnecessary plans.
When we have come this far, where would we go?
We don’t give up, we don’t give in, and we keep going. Because where would we go?
But to Jesus
Because where we’re going, the nightmare of human brokenness is being shattered by God’s dream of human goodness. The frayed fibers of humanity, the torn patchwork quilt of human civilization, can go nowhere but to a loom, a loom that heals and welcomes all colors, shapes, and sizes of fabric. Where would we go?
We’ve come this far, where else would we go?