Sunday, August 19, 2018

John 6.56-69: They No Longer Went About with Him

This teaching is difficult. So claim some of Jesus' followers in John 6:56-69. Do they mean difficult as in hard to understand? Or difficult as in it steps on my toes so I don't want to follow it? Or just exactly what?

Whatever it was, it was enough that it made people stop following Jesus. But the disciples remained true. Where else would we go? they asked Jesus. You have the words of eternal life. And the disciples continued following Jesus. Following on the road to eternal life.
American broadside printed by G.S. Peters in Harrisburg, PA. 1830s-1840s. 
But clearly there was another road they could have chosen: a road that led not to eternal life but to eternal damnation. And because those who stopped following (and their fiery, monstrous, deadly fate) are often perceived as a more interesting subject than those who stay the course, there is a clear artistic tradition growing from the choice. There are also overtones here of Matthew 7:14, where Jesus describes gates that are wide and ways that are broad. Many are on those ways, but those ways do not lead to eternal life. The way to eternal life is narrow and, at least in the American broadside here, rocky. 
Georgin, Francois. Three Roads to Eternity. 1825. Cornell University: PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography
As Matthew's gospel indicates, the way away from God is broad and many are on that path. The variations rare similar, but each has not two but three paths. The non-scriptural path is the middle one, which looks like it is going to the new Jerusalem and, indeed, passes in view of the city, but then leads to damnation. The top version has the inscriptions and morals in English, while the center example is in French and the example at the bottomin German. 
G. S. Peters (Printer/Publisher). Die Wege zum ewigen Leben oder dem Ewigen Verderben
Das Neue Jerusalem [The Paths to Eternal Life or Eternal Damnation. The New Jerusalem], 
n.d. Broadside. Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Collection, Philadelphia, PA
As with many images that contrast heaven and hell, the artist seems to revel in the sufferings of those who follow the parade into hell. But when you read Jesus' words to the disciples what tone do you hear? Does Jesus seem to share the interest of the artists in ogling those who have chosen that broad way and no longer go about with him?

For thoughts on Solomon's temple prayer (I Kings 8), click here.

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