Today, John 6:27–33 was my charge. This is not an obvious text to be reading on the 4th of July, but it’s the text that came up, and it served admirably as a backdrop for some of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about freedom, democracy, the United States, and Christianity.
|Hebert Translation||Nestle-Aland 27|
|“Work not for perishable food but for food that remains into life eternal, which the son of man gives to you; for God the Father set his seal upon this one.” Now they said to him: “What should we do in order to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them: “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom he has sent.” Then they said to him: “Then what sign are you doing, so that we may see and believe you? What is your work? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written ‘Bread from heaven he gave to them to eat.'” Then Jesus said to them: “Truly truly I say to you, Moses did not give the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gave to you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one descending from heaven and giving life to the world.”||ἐργάζεσθε μὴ τὴν βρῶσιν τὴν ἀπολλυμένην ἀλλὰ τὴν βρῶσιν τὴν μένουσαν εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον, ἣν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑμῖν δώσει· τοῦτον γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ἐσφράγισεν ὁ θεός. εἶπον οὖν πρὸς αὐτόν· τί ποιῶμεν ἵνα ἐργαζώμεθα τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ; ἀπεκρίθη [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ ἔργον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα πιστεύητε εἰς ὃν ἀπέστειλεν ἐκεῖνος. Εἶπον οὖν αὐτῷ· τί οὖν ποιεῖς σὺ σημεῖον, ἵνα ἴδωμεν καὶ πιστεύσωμέν σοι; τί ἐργάζῃ; οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν τὸ μάννα ἔφαγον ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, καθώς ἐστιν γεγραμμένον· ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς φαγεῖν. εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, ἀλλ᾿ ὁ πατήρ μου δίδωσιν ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τὸν ἀληθινόν· ὁ γὰρ ἄρτος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν ὁ καταβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ζωὴν διδοὺς τῷ κόσμῳ.|
Recall that this crowd had been fed by Jesus. They had seen an insane miracle, yet they have the audacity to ask Jesus to prove himself with a sign. The issue is perishable food versus non-perishable food — no, I’m not talking about canned goods. Rather, I’m talking about spiritual food versus physical food.
While Jesus had fed their bodies with his miracle, these folks were still yearning for spiritual nourishment (whether they realized it or not). The situation is similar to the that of the woman at the well in John 4. That Samaritan woman, without realizing it, was seeking spiritual nourishment: living water.
In response to the crowd’s hunger and their queries, Jesus tells them that he is the true bread of heaven; he is the one that the father has sent to give life to the world. Later on in the Gospel of John we’ll learn what Jesus’ understanding of “life” is. Suffice it to say that this type of living is more than blood pumping through veins.
What has this to do with the 4th of July?
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the various idols that exist in America. In spiritual communities we hear a lot about sex (lust and sexual immorality), money (greed), and jealousy. No doubt, these are gods that many Americans (including myself) have setup to replace the Almighty. However, there is one addiction that too many American Christians suffer from, one idol that often goes unnoticed: America.
I’m a fairly patriotic fellow. In spite of my pacifism, I make it a point to thank members of the armed services for their sacrifice. I tear up during hokey patriotic displays like Independence Day celebrations. I celebrate the economic and social freedoms that my country grants me. I am thankful that I can express myself here on Withering Fig without even considering the horrors that others have experienced for merely trying to communicate their hearts and minds.
However, patriotism can be an idol. In an election season post on my personal blog I wrote about how conservatives seem to think of Ronald Reagan as the Messiah — at least that’s what their rhetoric reflects. This is an obvious bit of idolatry.
What is less obvious, however, is the way in which we wield our collective history. George Washington has been made legend (not just by Brad Neely), but by so many of us. Those who grew up in this country are probably familiar with the idea that George Washington could not tell a lie; he had to tell the truth about chopping down that cherry tree.
In our pursuit of Constitutional justice we frequently invoke “the Founding Fathers” — what would they do? As if seeking the wisdom of this group of rebels will lead us to all the answers that we need. Somehow we are surprised to find that they were human. We are shocked when we learn that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams didn’t always get along. In fact, they seem to have been a rather contentious lot whose collective talent was to strike some rather amazing compromises. (I am not talking about just the Three-Fifths Compromise.)
A recent billboard campaign wants black Americans to know that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican. (The billboard made me laugh, honestly. Of course MLK was a Republican! Look at what the Democratic Party was doing to the South during that time!) The billboard reminded me of the way that I think about MLK and Gandhi: nonviolent pioneers worthy of my respect and admiration. They are demigods in my mind!
I walked into an office recently to see an autographed photo of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. I went crazy over it. (Not only do I worship those guys, but I worship the paper the image is printed on; I covet it!) These guys are synonymous with America in many circles (including mine). They are apple pie and Chevrolet. I often think back to the 1940s and 1950s as this extraordinary era in baseball when the game was somehow better (NB: the rules have hardly changed). I postulate that Ted Williams would have hit 800 home runs if he had played in modern parks and had not lost three seasons to World War II. What a divine swing!
Here is the point. Whatever your thoughts on Reagan, Washington, the Founding Fathers, Martin Luther King Jr., DiMaggio, Mantle, or Williams, none of these guys are the bread from heaven. None of them have come to give life.
I am not at all saying that you can’t revere them. By all means appreciate their talents and be thankful that they did the things that they did; celebrate them. Nor am I saying that the United States is an awful place. By no means! I am extraordinarily thankful for the riches that this land has bestowed upon me. But let’s be careful. No country, political party, or demagogue has a stranglehold on God. Jesus was neither a Republican nor a Democrat nor an American, and there is only one true Founding Father.