John 6, Proper 14B

Jesus in a leather cowboy hat

In this Olympic season of measuring the superiority of one person over another by their speed or ability to throw or jump, it’s interesting to take a look at the ways Jesus is measured in John 6. It doesn’t matter how many people he heals or feeds miraculously. Familiarity breeds contempt. People know him. They knew his father. They know his mama.

Won’t he just shut up already?

No. He goes on and on and says he is the bread come down from heaven, and it’s not just that he says he is bread, which is weird, but it’s also that he says the bread is from heaven, which is really kind of self-important sounding, isn’t it?

Also possibly a little crazy.

Maybe he’s not florid, but there’s an intense quality that might worry some people, no?

Sometimes someone turns up at my office door who might be defined the same way. A person who exhibits some grandiosity. Frequently that person carries a perfume of alcohol. (Usually smoke, too, but the real problem with that is being closed into my small office with the aroma.) Sometimes that person is just plain florid, without the help of substances. Often he or she has some big ideas. Mostly they are big ideas about themselves and what the church can do for them.

I try to contain the situation. Once I got a call that such a person had turned up at my first church, not for the first time, and had been told to come back when I was there the next day. I brought my big dog with me, just in case. In my current setting, people drive by, see a church, and decide to give us a try, and there is nearly always a story of complexity and tragedy and homelessness and a need for a bag of cat litter from the Pet Pantry we run. (That last one is real.)

And I think the people who knew Jesus’ parents were putting him in that category. Maybe.

Jesus makes it easier for them.

Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” (John 6:43-33a, NRSV)

In other words, cut it out. I don’t care. You only understand me if my Father wants you to understand.

Still, he goes on explaining.

I want to think, when I read the other gospels, that there was a concerted political effort to shut up a person whose philosophy threatened the authorities and their way of life, that they couldn’t see past their own security to his divinity. But when I read John 6, I begin to wonder about all this rambling musing over bread and feel a little uncomfortable. This is not an accessible sermon he’s preaching.

I once spent an hour in my office with a tattooed guy in a leather cowboy hat who wanted the church to give away some money, but only by his rules.

I have also sat at lunch with men in neckties who wanted the same thing.

And I have been guilty of wanting to go along with the latter and hoping the former will leave and never come back.

Because I am thinking, “I know his Mama. I know his story. What can he possibly have to tell me?”

I am guilty.

From Cowboy Hat Jesus, I kid you not.

While I was writing this post, one of the above showed up unexpectedly and asked to stop in for a chat. It’s 6 o’clock. I am alone in the building. I begged off, saying I have a meeting at 7 (true) and need to finish preparing for it (somewhat true). Yes, it’s sensible not to meet with people when I am alone in the building. Yes.

But I am guilty.

I’m not sure I would have put the other type off that way.

So Cowboy Hat Jesus, I confess. Forgive me for my bias, my sense that I know it all, and my fear of men who show up at the backdoor unannounced. I hope it wasn’t you this time. I hope it wasn’t you.

3 thoughts on “Jesus in a leather cowboy hat”

  1. Isn’t that always the fear? I don’t typically donate to someome begging on the street or at an intersection, but I always wonder, “What if that person truly needs me?”

  2. It’s sad that we do have to fear, but that is the reality of our world. But, can we really hear or help from afar? I don’t know… but I would have had the very same response you had.

  3. It’s so hard to balance the need and desire to do right with the real need and desire for physical safety. I know that’s the choice I would have made. I think what bothers me is that it probably wasn’t the “right” choice — I suspect letting go of the fear is what we’re supposed to do.

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