John 6: 41-51
When people read this passage, Most of the time, the interpretation and proclamation centers around the concept of Jesus being the living bread. Sometimes they’ll even carry on into next weeks’ passage, which continues the concept of Jesus as the body.
But Friday night, I was the preacher at the Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission, and in thinking about that message, another part of the passage caught my eye: verse 42 says “They were saying ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say “I have come down from heaven’?”
Have you ever done something, when you were a kid, that people 50 years later still remember you for?
Have you ever done something dumb, that, when you go back to your hometown, it’s the first thing they refer to you by?
When I went back to my 20 year class reunion, I had changed a good bit. I had twice the belly and half the hair I have now. I was also engaged in a vocation that was not high on my list of careers when I was 17. I got to the reunion, and there were a few people who didn’t recognize me. Not until they saw my eyes. So at the end of the night, I received the award for “most changed”, which is still stuck into the back of my senior year yearbook.
I am not sure if I received the award because of the way I looked, or because of my answering the call to ministry, which was so far away from what I was telling people I was going to do when I was 17.
Sometimes, we live under the oppression of expectations of people we know from our youth, or our families.
Some of us may have gone on a joyride, borrowed a car without their permission, and went driving around town. Who knows what it may have been. But what seems to be true is that when they see you after not seeing you for years, that’s of course the first thing they refer to.
Now, think back to the people who I spoke to on Friday night, the people at the Rescue mission. These aren’t folks who are out for an early meal before they go dancing. These are folks who are on the ragged edge. Some may have just gotten out of prison, and are trying to restructure their lives. Others are suffering under the weight of addictions, addictions that have ruined their lives.
And in our society, for all of the official language of “serving their debt to society” and “being rehabilitated”, what most folk actually believe is that once you have made that mistake, that is what you are for all time. When you have had an addiction, society expects you to fail, to fall off the wagon again.
They are even more oppressed by the expectations of others than those of us who have committed youthful indiscretions.
Jesus can identify with this. In this verse 42, here are people who have known Jesus since he was a child, who knew his parents, and who now find it impossible for him to be claiming these things he’s claiming. “We knew him as a child; I changed his diapers…” You know the comments.
When you change someone’s diapers, do you really believe that when they grow up, they can perform miracles? In another Gospel, Mark 6, the story is expanded to include the statement that “he could do no deed of power there, (in his hometown)”.
It is hard to live beyond what people expect of us. It is hard to break the bounds of where people have us pegged. Sometimes we have to start fresh in order to succeed, in order to expand to be what we are capable of. And Jesus knows what this feels like.
We believe in a Lord of redemption; of regeneration; of change; of maturity; of growth. We believe in a Lord that demonstrates all of these things.
So, while you may think it’s unfair to have people only remember you for something yu might have done while you were young and dumb, think about how many times you’ve looked with distrust at people who are in Anonymous meetings? How many times have you heard that someone has a prison record and felt fear and distrust?
I don’t even think we hear the language of “rehabilitation” and “paying our debt to society” anymore. More often, we are sounded by people like Javert from Les Miserables, who believes that once you have committed the sin, you will always be a sinner, beyond the reach of grace, even for a sin as small as stealing bread to feed your family. That, I believe, is the operative attitude in our society.
But we believe in a Savior that does rehabilitate. Who redeems.
Let’s put truth to our words. If we believe that we have been regenerated by Christ, then can’t we also believe that the Christ that lives with each of us is also working in each of us? Shouldn’t we believe that those who are seeking to recover from addictions can be successful?
We are not in a position to mistrust. We are not in a position to judge. There but for the Grace of God go us.
Jesus himself had to deal with people’s preconceived notions, and memories. So do we, so do they, so does everyone.
Let us be the people who believe in redemption, in rehabilitation. Let us be the people who believe in second, third, fourth chances. Let us be the people who believe that everyone we meet is Jesus.
In Matthew 25, the saints ask “when did we feed you? When did we clothe you?”. And Jesus says, when you have done this to the least of these, you have done it to me.
Every person we meet could be Jesus. Including those with addiction, including those with prison records.