When I was about sixteen years old, a friend and I attended an event at a local non-denominational church. The event may have been a concert or a talk by a well-known athlete. I don’t recall. What I do remember is that it was all a bit of a set up.
At some point, counselors came through the rows asking about the state of our souls. My designated evangelist chatted a bit before staring seriously at me and asking “Are you a Christian?” That kind of personal question was strange to me, but I knew this was one I could get right.
“Yeah, I’m a Lutheran,” I responded.
He looked at me and said, with just a touch of sadness in his voice, “I used to be a Lutheran before I became a Christian.”
He then turned to my friend and asked the same question, to which my friend responded, “I’m a Catholic.” The counselor had no response, suggesting that my popish friend might require intervention beyond mere evangelism.
It’s a real temptation to feel like we have all the answers, to think that the ones in some other group are a bit naive or downright wrong. After all, when Jesus describes himself as the bread of life, he uses some exclusive sounding language. In verse 44 he says that “no one can come to me unless the father who sent me draws them to me” (NLT). This seems to suggest that God selects some to be brought to Jesus, while others are, by implication, rejected before they get a shot.
Fortunately, the central metaphor of the story is bread — “Anyone who eats this bread will not die . . . ” (v. 58, NLT) If God offers Jesus as the bread of life, he brings people to that bread through hunger. It’s hard to imagine a more universal image since we are all programmed to get hungry and thirsty, just as we are all programmed to seek meaning in our lives.
Jesus did not proclaim, “I am the obscure password of life. If you can produce the secret knock, the door shall be opened to you.” Instead, he offers himself as the most basic fulfillment of the most basic need.
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever felt spiritually excluded? How can we be welcoming of people who hold different beliefs while still remaining true to our own?
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