Traffic Jam Spirituality

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

The other day I was tailed and then passed by a heavy-duty pickup truck with a message. It told me from its bumper, in large bold caps, to TRUST JESUS! I have never been a fan of bumper stickers. Not only do they (in my opinion) junk up a car’s appearance, certain bumper stickers foist religious (or not) beliefs, push moral and political stances, and crow children’s accomplishments in the faces of disinterested strangers in a way that is, well, obnoxious.

Bumper stickers that tell others how to act are particularly boorish in traffic. They speak to the popular notion that whatever we think must be proclaimed publicly. Perhaps we are headed for a dialogue-free society in which everyone just blurts out their opinion using the nearest technology and then disappears in a plume of exhaust.

Maybe I make too much of it.

In all fairness, I knew nothing about the driver of the TRUST JESUS! truck. He was just like every other person on the Turnpike who simply wanted to get from one point to another. But he happened to be in front of me for several miles and having this command in my face started to bother me. What exactly did this driver mean by “TRUST JESUS!” and who did he think he was, anyways?

Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” [John 6:51]

Although their bellies were filled, the crowd did not see God’s hand in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. And while they recognized Jesus’ teaching authority and wondrous deeds, they were blind to his true relationship with the Father. They found his claim, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” [JN 6:41b] to be preposterous. After all, everyone knew Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, so how could he claim to have come down from heaven? Their opposition mounted and yet the crowd remained in his presence, grumbling and murmuring  within earshot of Jesus. These people, his opponents, were limited by their partial view of life, and of God. They trusted God, not Jesus.

It has been said that if you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God made visible in the world. However, as theologian John Shea says, “One who is not in touch with the inner light of God cannot see it in the outside world.”* For this reason, Jesus’ enemies were not capable of seeing Jesus for who he was, and they did not see God’s doing in Jesus’ mighty works. Neither could their hunger be sated, because they refused to ingest Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus is talking about transformation. He offers his unconditional gift of self as food for the world to all of humanity. It is an invitation to the table. “And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” [JN 6:51b]. This goes back to why the TRUST JESUS! bumper sticker bothered me. Of course we should trust Jesus. But there’s more. Discipleship requires active and ongoing participation in Jesus earthly mission, here and now. Jesus did not say trust the bread, Jesus said eat the bread, all of it. Eat the entire loaf, take it in completely and be transformed.

EAT THE BREAD. Now there’s a bumper sticker I would not mind following.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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*John Shea. 2005. The Spiritual Wisdom of Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: Eating with the Bridegroom Year B. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. Page 204.