What’s Already There

By Michael Smith

A Reading from the Gospel of John 6:41-54

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Meditation

Today is the feast of Saint Brigid of Kildare, a fifth-century abbess or superior of a double monastery of nuns and monks in Ireland. A convert to the Christian faith from Druidism, she characterizes the Celtic manner of Christian evangelism in that Kildare had originally been a pagan shrine that kept a perpetual fire burning. Rather than douse the blaze, Brigid and her sisters reinterpreted the eternal flame in a Christian context, thus building on the spiritual experience of the people while sharing the good news and fulfillment of Jesus. In a similar way, Choctaw Bishop Steven Charleston refers theologically to indigenous tribal spiritual traditions as their “old testaments.” What a pity such an attitude did not accompany the Christian missionaries to the First Nations of this continent!

Jesus seems to follow this same pattern of appealing to the spiritual stories of the Jewish ancestors to reveal himself to the people: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

The Anglican understanding of evangelism is “the presentation of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in such ways that persons may be led to believe in him as Savior and follow him as Lord within the fellowship of the Church.” A good place to begin before we share the “living bread” with those who have not yet tasted it, is by recognizing God’s work already present in their lives.

Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

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