“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 6:37-38). Jesus does not reject us, he accepts us as we are, first and foremost. Jesus has come to do his Father’s will which is to lead us all to salvation, to be redeemed and restored to the proper order of freedom from our enslavement to sin. This is why Jesus met Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus. They were walking the wrong way! Jesus did not tell them that, he just opened up the Scriptures to them, so they could see that he was who he claimed to be and then revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread. Once they had a deeper encounter with him, they determined on their own to turn back, and even though evening approached they went back to tell the Apostles the Good News of their encounter with him.
It was through sharing a meal with them that they recognized him. How many meals had they shared together before his death? A close reading of Sacred Scripture shows how important table fellowship is for Jesus and his followers before his death and after his Resurrection. True, Jesus eating with his disciples after his Resurrection shows that he is no ghost, he is human, but also he is reestablishing the cornerstone of his ministry, table fellowship.
Here the basic needs of sustenance are met, for the body, and his sharing his time and conversation with anyone willing to eat with him, no matter their level of ritual purity touches the deepest hunger within each of us, which is to belong, to be accepted as we are, for who we are. The majority of the crowd that Jesus is speaking to has continued to come to him because he fed them with only a few loaves and some fish. In the miraculous multiplication, Jesus is providing for their bodily nourishment, but also preparing them for the deeper spiritual nourishment of the body and soul to come in the next verses as he goes deeper into his Bread of Life discourse.
Jesus loves us, he wills the best for us. Many resist this claim because of our own callouses, scars, and growing cynicism as a result of our own wounds inflicted upon us because someone else burned us, did not fulfill our expectations, betrayed us, and in being let down by those we have looked up to and trusted. If we are involved in a relationship long enough, we will experience disappointment or worse, sooner or later, and it is often from those closest to us because these are the people we let into our inner circle.
We need to remember that none of us are perfect, ourselves included. We are all on a journey, and on our own, we will consistently fall short of our goal. That is why we need a savior. We need someone we can trust that will be there for us when we are let down and when we fall down face-first into the mud. Someone who, when that happens, will lay down in the mud with us, look us in the eye and smile.
Even if we are not able to look past the predicament, or smile in return, we might just be able to catch his eyes looking at us and then he will offer us his hand. Both of us then rise together, and we are able to stand again. That is how Jesus shows his mercy and love for us. He enters into our chaos and meets us in the midst of the muck and grime of our brokenness and sin. He loves us there, and when we are ready to accept his offer of love, he invites us to get up, and begin to walk again.
As our relationship grows and deepens and as our trust strengthens, we begin to believe that we belong. We realize that we are a part of something greater than ourselves and we are then strong enough to share that same mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love with others. This is the path of discipleship. This is the road we are on, together. Let us be willing to love, to be there for, and accompany one another through this current pandemic and onward.
Photo: Me, as Jesus in the Living Stations, Jesus falls the third time, Good Friday around 1991 in the streets of the Bronx