Archive for March 24, 2009
Promises, promises. How many promises are made only to be broken by the morass of reality and life? “I’ll meet you there at three,” the plumber promises. At four, we’re still waiting. “This project should take two months,” the contractor pledges. Four months later, we’re wondering why our kitchen cabinets still don’t have any doors. “The check’s in the mail,” the client vows. Sure it is. We’ve all heard that one before.
We live in a world of broken promises. This seems especially true in politics. The promises of politicians often appear to be nothing but outlandish guarantees mixed with unrealistic expectations. Woodrow Wilson, for example, when running for president, promised to keep the nation out of World War I. Franklin Roosevelt promised to keep the nation out of World War II. Whoops. Then there was Herbert Hoover’s 1928 pledge to end poverty. Then October 28, 1929 hit. So much for that promise. But even the Great Depression didn’t stop Lyndon Johnson from recycling this same promise in 1964 as he promised to win the war on poverty. And we’re still waiting.
It’s easy to understand our pessimism toward promises. After all, others break their promises to us and we break our promises to others. There are always reasons we break our promises, of course. Sometimes we run out of time. Sometimes we run out of money. Sometimes we just plain forget. Sometimes we never intended to keep our promises in the first place. And sometimes, our promises seem so outlandish and so unrealistic, that they strain the bounds of even the most trusting naiveté.
Such seems to be the case in our reading for today from John 6. Jesus makes this promise: “I am the bread of life,” Jesus announces. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in my will never be thirsty…I am the bread that came down from heaven” (verses 35, 41). Never go hungry? Never be thirsty? Bread that comes down from heaven? That sounds about as realistic to me as a pledge to end poverty. And so the people listening to Jesus, themselves familiar with the pervasiveness of preposterous pledges, respond with skepticism: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know. How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’” (verse 42)? “Come on, Jesus,” they’re saying, “You can’t pull the wool over our eyes with this kind of outlandish statement. We weren’t born yesterday, you know. This is sure to be a broken promise.” As John regretfully records: “On hearing this promise, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it’” (verse 60)?
One of the most poignant statements in the writings of the great church father Augustine comes in his admission that he once thought, along with the incredulous disciples of John 6, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Augustine writes of his initial impression of Christ and his promises: “As I was passing into early manhood, the more defiled by vain things I became as I grew in years. I could not imagine any substance, but that which could be seen with these eyes. I thought not of you, O God, under the figure of a human body” (Confessions VII:1). Christ, come down from heaven? God in human flesh? “No way,” was Augustine’s initial answer. Nothing but some empty promises.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” “God keeps his promises,” Paul says. They can never and will never be broken. Our call, then, is to trust in these promises, even when these promises seem to be outlandish and hard. For no matter how outlandish and hard they may seem, they’re still true. After all, these promises are spoken to us not by some politician, but by our living Lord. So lean on his promises today. In the end, you won’t be disappointed. And that’s a promise.