21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – August 22, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Psalm 34:2-3, 16-21; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
The Chilean Miners
I’ve had to take a break from the news recently. I was just too caught-up in it. And there’s never anything good. No one ever says, “Just watched the news and I’ve never felt better!” It’s always, “Just watched the news. There’s three hours of my life I’m not gettin’ back! Gah I’m so depressed.” Even stuff that isn’t really news, just anything that comes up on the screen. Celebrity gossip! Couldn’t get enough of that stuff. I saw one, about a month and a half-ago a certain celebrity got himself kicked out of a karaoke bar. Yeah, look at your faces: “Who did that, eh? Who did that?” This won’t surprise you: none other that Jorge Galleguillos! You remember Jorge Galleguillos, don’t you? It’s been a while, to be fair. What’s it been, eleven years since he got out of the mine? About eleven years since the Chilean miners, but they are massive celebrities now, you cannot deny that! And so the rabbit hole began.
Do you remember when that Chilean mining accident happened? It was all over the news. The mine collapsed one day; wasn’t until seventeen days later that they discovered them alive. Wasn’t until nine days after that that they began drilling a hole to rescue them. Sixty-five days after the mine caved in that they got a shaft cleared to pull them out. Sixty-nine days before all thirty-three miners were rescued. What a spree!
And in the midst of those sixty-nine days, the miners all knew: there was nothing they could do. They lacked the ability to save themselves. All they could do was hope and pray that someone would save them. In that situation, they were acutely aware of their need for another, of their inability to save themselves. It was impossible. They couldn’t provide for this impossible need. They couldn’t do it. They knew someone else would have to provide the solution, that someone would have to do it for them.
John 6: A Response to Our Impossible Need
As we’ve been talking the past several weeks, this is what the the sixth chapter of John is all about. Jesus is revealing that he has come to respond to this impossible need we find ourselves in. Us, humanity, our broken and fallen world—Jesus has come to save us from this impossible situation. But throughout this chapter, his solution seems to make no sense. He’s “living bread”? We have to “eat his flesh and drink his blood”? What?
This didn’t make sense! This defied everyone’s preconceptions! Some people weren’t even aware how this could respond to any need they had! Remember, they all showed up because they had eaten a bunch of bread. They thought Jesus was a magical Wonder Bread® dispenser! But Jesus is trying to respond to a much deeper need. That need for a freedom; for a gladness, a happiness we cannot seem to find; for the experience of a fulness, not lacking anything. In other words, salvation. We’re in need of being saved, and this need is no less real, no less concrete than being stuck at the bottom of a mine! I would argue it’s even more real, and more impossible!
And so Jesus comes along preaching: “Good news! Good news! The Kingdom of God is at hand! Believe in this good news!” (c.f., Mark 1:14). Good news: something has changed! The world is now different! He demonstrates that he can provide for our real, concrete needs, even in seemingly impossible circumstances—he feeds those 5,000 people with five loaves and two stupid fish! He says that he can provide even more, provide for the deepest needs we have. But then he starts talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood…people can’t handle it: “This saying is hard, who can accept it?” (John 6:60). And one by one, they leave.
Stop and think about that! At least for myself, whenever I have a difficult time with my faith, I always immediately fall into, “If only I could have been there with Jesus, this would be so much easier. If only I were there and saw the miracles, heard him preach—I wouldn’t have any problems in my faith.” But no! Here are the closest followers of the Lord, people who have left everything and followed him. And even they are a bit incredulous. Many of them abandoned the him, “many…returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66). And Jesus is left alone with his twelve closest companions. And asks, “Do you want to leave too?”
Our Preconceptions: The Obstacles to Seeing
So this is where we fit in. We are right here at these crosshairs. Right in the thick of it. The first step is to recognize the need within ourselves. Like I said weeks ago, we can all go to West Palm Beach, Florida, have a great time, live like kings…but that doesn’t fix it. We can give ourselves so much, taste a little freedom, a little happiness, a little satisfaction…but it never lasts. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we can’t do it on our own. The need we have is an impossible one to fulfill.
We can spend a lot of our life in denial about this, pretending that this isn’t really the case. We can say, over and over again, “But, well maybe, perhaps…” but these are all words which are sordid and satanic enemies to perceiving the truth of it all. We know we’re stuck. We know the facts. And we know that the Lord is the only one who can provide.
This is what our first reading is getting at. Very famous passage: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”—very famous. But the context is that Joshua has just listed off all of the ways that the Lord has provided for his people in the most impossible of situations, in the most unforeseen ways: He defeated the Egyptians, He destroyed the Amorites, He had the walls of Jericho fall, He destroyed all the other nations, He gave Israel this land which they didn’t till, olive groves and grape vines they didn’t plant (c.f., Joshua 24). Just like Moses told the people originally, in the most impossible situation, backed up against the Red Sea: “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14). And so Joshua is saying, “We are not going to abandon the Lord! How could we? He has provided for us time and time again. We had no clue how He was going to do it, but time and again He did it! He has proven himself faithful!”
The Unforeseen Response We Cannot Explain
And we have seen that too! I told you the story a few weeks ago about that girl down at Totus Tuus Camp—“Jesus sucks” girl. This is the girl that I had known for a while and was struggling, could never seem to find what she was looking for—she had it all, but was unhappy. But here she was at this camp, forced to give it all up: no phone, cold showers, uncomfortable bed, bad food. And at the end of that week she tells me: “I don’t understand this. I’m happy. I’m so happy right now. I’ve never been this happy. This is literally the happiest I have ever been in my life. And I don’t know why.” She couldn’t explain it, but she had been given what she needed.
I told you the story last week about the kid at K-State. He had that Crown Royal bag that he kept all of his spare change in during his four years of school, was going to buy himself a nice bottle of scotch when he graduated to celebrate. But he put it on the priest’s desk and left a sticky note that said, “I was going to use this to buy a bottle of scotch. But I want you to give it to the building fund. When I was at St. Isidore’s things were different, I encountered something special, and it changed me. I want you to take this money and give it to the building fund so that others can experience what I experienced here.” He couldn’t explain what had happened, he couldn’t give a theological explanation—but he knew he had found what he needed, what he truly needed.
Again, think of the Chilean miners: stuck in a situation, unable to provide for themselves—and yet what they needed, they were given.
I could stand up here and do this all day! But do you see what I’m getting at? Once we recognize our need, once we admit to ourself that, yeah, it’s a real thing, yeah, it’s really there—once we stop saying, “But, well maybe, perhaps…”, once we admit the impossibility of the situation we’re in, then—then we are in the perfect position for the Lord to work.
Jesus is left alone with his twelve closest companions. And asks, “Do you want to leave too? Are you going to leave?” When Jesus asks, “Everyone else is gone, aren’t you going too?” Peter responds, “Lord, you’re right, we don’t fully understand you; we don’t even totally understand why we follow you! But we are sure that you are the only one who takes us seriously, takes seriously our need for complete and total fulfillment. Only you have the words of eternal life! Only you have the words which correspond to my heart. Master, to whom else would we go?” (c.f., John 6:68).
The difference between the people that left and the disciples who stayed is not that the teaching of Jesus made sense, or they understood perfectly. Rather, in encountering and following Jesus Christ, everything had changed and continued to change. Peter and the twelve could not deny the fact of Jesus in their lives; the fact that being with Jesus, listening to Jesus, following Jesus, changed everything. This is the good news. This is the news that you can announce, that has made the world a different place. This is news worth spending your time on.
And so today and everyday we confess with Peter and make his prayer our own: “Lord, not even we understand. But still we are convinced. You have the words of eternal life.”