Pilgrims by Faith

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I was asked to review a documentary for the Pastors Unplugged Retreat I will be holding at Menucha in late January. My facilitator for the event, Pastor Brett Webb-Mitchell, is an author of several books on pilgrimage. The documentary he asked me to review is called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. It chronicles several pilgrims along their 500-mile route from France to Santiago, Spain.

From my perspective, navigating through the landscape of our faith and time, some thoughts that have arisen for me while reviewing the film are these:

  • It’s not about holy sites or a holy path, but about a holy time: pilgrim time
  • It’s not about a physical ordeal but about a spiritual endeavor
  • It is not about walking the ground, but grounding the soul
  • It’s not about searching for God, but about God searching for us.

Jesus said:

“The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

I don’t know about you, but Jesus really bites into me with those statements, and I find myself saying with the crowds: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Here is where exegesis and deeper study of scripture can benefit our understanding. With thanks to Commentator Wayne Meeks, I found out that many of the ancient manuscripts of John 6:52 actually read “the flesh to eat” instead of “his flesh to eat.”[1] For me, changing that one word has profound affect on my interpretation and understanding of this passage. So I looked it up in the original Greek, and suffice it to say, some very interesting connotations were revealed. In Greek, the text reads he sarks mou, which means, woodenly translated, the flesh mine. “The flesh” is feminine, and “mine” refers to Jesus speaking. I can see why many manuscripts just put “my flesh.” But what if the most ancient version originally read “the flesh?” I could not find in the commentaries I have which version is oldest, but I would like to believe “the flesh” is an older rendition of what Jesus said. That would make much more sense to me: a clearer allusion to the wanderings in the dessert with Moses, as referenced by Jesus in the earlier passage. When, in the dessert the people demanded of Moses flesh to eat, God provided quail from heaven.

With that in mind, it makes so much more sense to think of Jesus saying, in effect: “God gave the manna to feed you in the time of Moses, God has now given you myself in this time to feed you with true sustenance. No longer do you need God’s manna to simply live day to day physically, now you need me to live spiritually into eternity.”

To reinforce that message, Jesus speaks plainly, referring to himself as the “one that came down from heaven.” With an insider’s understanding – that is, a Christ-follower’s understanding – putting the story of Moses and the manna side by side with the witness of Jesus, the message is clear: only that which comes from heaven can sustain. Jesus is the manna, Jesus is the quail, Jesus is the gift of God for the people of God.

Not merely “to eat” as the crowd’s first Greek verbs relay but to chew as the later Greek implies. Isn’t that true, though? Jesus doesn’t want us to sit back in our pews and observe that God is good and Jesus is a great model for us all to strive towards becoming. Jesus wants us to “get up, come forward, hold out empty hands, [gulp] wine and chew bread.”[2] For me, that means really chewing on who and what Jesus is for us.

Who is Jesus to you? How far along your journey of faith-your personal pilgrimage- have you gone? Is Jesus so deeply ingested within you that he nourishes your every thought, word, and deed? Is Jesus so deeply intertwined with your own existence that you would call yourself a disciple? Would you follow him unto the cross – even unto death itself for the sake of the gospel? That is the essential question John asks us to wrestle with.

John’s gospel is deep and multi-layered, yes, but on another level it is very clear: Jesus is the bread of heaven, the one that came down, with the intention of being lifted up, bringing all Creation with him, redeeming it at last with his hanging on the cross, his death, and his resurrection to new life. And we, we are invited into full communion with this sacrificial lamb of God. Are you ready?

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Meeks, Wyne. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).

[2] Willimon, William. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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