“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 experience.
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 in also in 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 for different reasons. It could be the callouses, scars, and growing cynicism as a result of wounds inflicted by others, those who did not fulfill expectations, betrayal. Each of us could have experience the same and have also been 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. This is because sooner or later, when we draw close the masks will come down and who we truly are, the fullness of our wounds and our gifts will come to the fore. Conflicts will arise because we are finite beings. We are still a work in progress.
None of us are perfect. We are all on a journey. 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 we will see him offer us his hand. We can then rise together, and 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 mistakes, 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 begin to heal and realize that we are a part of something greater than ourselves and we are then with wobbly steps, begin to offer attempts of the same mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love with others. This is the path of discipleship. This is the road we are on, together. This is not a hundred-yard dash but a long and winding road. Let us be willing to persist, to be led, to love, to be there for, and accompany one another each step of the way. And especially may we have the willingness to help each other when we fall.
Photo: Me, as Jesus in the Living Stations, falling the third time, Good Friday around 1991 in the streets of the Bronx