“Good news is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
This statement comes from Chapter 7 of Monika Hellwig’s The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World. I first encountered this text in seminary, but with the readings from the Gospel of John lately, I thought it might be appropriate to look it over again.
In our Gospel reading for Sunday (John 6:35, 41-51), once again Jesus is telling the people he is the bread of life. Over the last couple of weeks, we have explored the miracles of Jesus and we have talked about spiritual and physical hunger. When Jesus has told his followers that he is the bread of life, they were eager to hear and receive this good news. They didn’t question Jesus’ credentials, they accepted the good news because he was in relationship with them.
But in this week’s Gospel, there is some question. There are questions about how Jesus can make such bold claims that he is the bread from heaven. Here “the Jews” represent temple leaders and those who held power. They complain that Jesus cannot possibly be who he claims to be because they do not recognize him as the Messiah. For them, a Messiah was someone who was a political and military leader, someone who would liberate them from Roman occupation; not someone who was necessarily concerned with embracing outsiders, soothing the suffering, or comforting the afflicted.
If we take a look back over the last several weeks, those who have followed Jesus have been outsiders—Gentiles, tax collectors, fishermen, the poor and the hungry. They went looking for him because they desired a relationship with the Divine and one another. They were seeking a new community. They were seeking healing, peace and love. This week there are no followers present, but rather complainers. And these complainers are the insiders—the powerful, the ones in leadership, the ones who are always right.
Where else do we see this kind of struggle in our lives?
After hearing about the shooting of the Sikh’s at their temple in Wisconsin last week, I have been praying for peace and understanding in faith communities. I have been troubled by the confusion that we have around people who “aren’t like us”—in other words, outsiders. Because of the way Sikh’s look (headcoverings, turbans, long beards), they are often mistaken for Muslims and Arabs, and therefore often the victims of racially motivated crimes. In the case of the Oak Creek shooting, Wade Michael Page, a member of a white supremacist group, walked into a temple and open fired. Prior to entering the temple, those gathered were engaged in praying and singing, which would then be followed by a community meal. Sikhs are a peaceful, loving people. They believe in God. They have sacred texts and practices. The three principles of Sikhism are: remember God, earn honestly, share with the needy. They support religious freedom. The ideology of white supremacists groups in very simple terms is the white race is the right race, and it is the race chosen by God.
Please understand that I'm not comparing "the Jews" of John's gospel with white supremacists. I'm merely illustrating the struggle of insiders versus outsiders. The powerful versus the peaceful.
Somehow, I’m just not convinced that when we are called to be children of God, it means engaging in violence, ostracism, or power plays. Being children of God isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but learning to live in community and relationship with one another. According to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we are to be members of one another, we are to put away all bitterness and hatred and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Theologians call these the “marks of Christian living”. And in the case of Oak Creek, the Sikhs and the community which supports them are behaving more in line with Paul’s teaching than those who engage in violence and hate.
I want to go back to Monika Hellwig’s statement “Good news is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.” As participants in the Body of Christ, as partakers of the Bread of Life, as Children of God, we are called to community. We are called to listen, forgive, and heal. We are called to love and charity.
What if we replaced the phrase “good news” with some other phrases about Christian living?
“Kindness is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
“Forgiveness is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
“Love is communicated by what we are and how we relate to others.”
So in light of the events in Oak Creek Wisconsin, and the many events of our daily living, I invite you to reflect on those marks of Christian living. Are we filled with bitterness and complaining or are we acting in kindness and looking for healing? Are we members of one another or only concerned with ourselves? Do we engage in exclusion or inclusion? Which is more important—power or peace?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.