What should we do now?

There is a poem by Portia Nelson that tells the story of self-discovery.  It goes something like this:

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost… I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in. It’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

I walk down another street.”

There is much to be said about self awareness, about self-discovery.  There are books and retreats and seminars and podcasts about becoming self-aware.  Tips and tricks from the masters of understanding self.

Learning about ourselves is no easy feat.  We can observe someone playing golf or piano or bridge and learn the moves or techniques.  We can talk to those individuals and ask questions like, “When your opponent did ‘this,’ why did you do ‘that’?”  We can gain knowledge from a process that is observable.  

But, learning about ourselves is so difficult.  There are foundations and anchors that we should have in place if we wish to know more of ourselves.  And I’ll return to these in a moment.  

In our Gospel text this morning we have the morning after the feeding of the 5,000.  (And remember, this count includes the men only. Women and children were not considered members of the community and were not worthy of being counted, so the number is actually higher.)  The people follow Jesus across the sea to Capernaum.  Having spent my former career as an English teacher, I find it curious that the translation of our text from the original Greek to Revised Standard Version of the Bible in English has three tenses of verbs as the people question Jesus:  past, present, and future.  There’s another sermon there…. Look for that one 3 years from now!

They ask Jesus, “When did you come here?”  Jesus responds that they are looking for Him not so that they can be given eternal food, but that their bellies can be filled again and their physical hunger can be satiated.  He sees what they truly want and speaks it into existence.  Remember I was speaking about self-awareness earlier?  Well, here is the first of the people having an opportunity truly to know themselves.  They are speaking with Jesus, and He sees their motivations for following Him.  And when He sees it, He speaks it to them so that they can see it themselves.

One of the foundational elements that you and I need so that we may know ourselves as we are is someone outside of us, someone whom we trust, to speak the truth to us.  This person we have is not someone who will placate our anxieties or stroke our egos.  No, this person (or people) will speak to us face-to-face.  Clearly.  Directly.  And with compassion so that we will listen and be brought into an intimacy with the individual as well as with our own self.

But, there’s a critical element that needs to be addressed here:  a person can speak the truth all day long, but if the individual does not trust them, the words are in vain.  The relationship between the individuals must be based on trust and reliability.  You may be a very reliable individual, but if in some way you have broken or damaged my trusting you, your words will be worthless to me.  When the relationship is strong and both people are faithful, the opportunity for self-awareness is significant.

As we continue in our passage from the Gospel text, the people as Jesus a second question: “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  The people here are taking a step towards intimacy with Jesus.  They have seen who He is, and they have been told that they are looking for the wrong thing.  I can imagine a puzzled look on their faces as they received the answer to the first question.  After digesting His response, they ask their second question.  And in this question they want to align their behaviors with what He says they need.  They know that what they desire is not to have their bellies to be satiated.  No, they want to have what He has.  This power.  This light and life and hope.  And they want to know what to do.

See how they are moving towards self-understanding?  They saw that what they were looking for was inadequate.  It would not sustain them.  And now they have stepped from understanding to action:  What must we DO.  This is a powerful movement into their relationship with the Messiah as well as themselves.

The next question that they ask (one that is is future tense) states: “What sign are you going to give us then?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness?”  In other words, they are asking, “How do we know that this is the right path because in the past we’ve always done it this other way?”  And it is the response of Jesus that offers them the opportunity to know themselves without a hazy film over their asking eyes.  He reinforces what was done in the past, a past that they know intimately because they have just recited their Jewish heritage, but He adjusts their memory in such a way that changes their perspective.

See, when we have someone that we trust, someone who knows us as sees us with objectivity and speaks directly to us, we will have faith in their memory of our own history.  We will hear their words, their reflection, and know its truth.  And that truth will give insight into our own self and bring wakefulness to our own thought patterns and actions.  And, as Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we must do better.”  When we know who we are, the being that we are in the darkness, in the solitude, in the depths, we have the keys to our future.  The keys that will open possibility and hope and reality because we can step even further onto the path because we no longer carry what isn’t real, the perception that we have of ourselves that is false or veiled or partial.  

The response of the people brings that hope: “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Always.  That word implies permanency.  They see themselves clearly now, and they do not desire to be who they were before this encounter.  Always.

May we, too, desire to enter into this intimate relationship  with Jesus, who will not falter, who will speak clearly, and who will transform our own broken and veiled souls.  Also, may we understand the truth that we cannot walk our own paths in isolation.  May we seek a trusted friend or friends who will speak clearly and directly to us.  And, when we are called upon, may we speak to another who seeks the truth of themselves.  For, when we are in spiritual relationship with another, those words that we speak will be the bread of life, the holy food that brings understanding, wakefulness, and potential change.

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