Living in Jesus' Heart: Reflections on John 6:51-58
We are used to thinking about Jesus living in us and inviting him into our hearts. We are not so accustomed to meditating on the reality that we already live in Jesus' heart.
The recognition that we live in Jesus is both comforting and challenging. It's comforting because it means we don't have to do everything. When our personal lives are chaotic or disappointing, when our society is polarized and violent, we remember that we live and move and have our being in Jesus. That is our context. It is a context of judgment but also of hope. It is a context in which we are expected to invite Jesus "into our hearts" and, as a result, to persevere (to remain or abide) in following his teachings and believing in his unique identity.
We are expected, as branches of the vine, to bear fruit.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing . . . If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (Jn. 15:5,7).
There is a promise along with the expectation. We are promised that we are no longer people who walk in darkness, but people who have come into the light.
I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness (Jn. 12:46).
Every now and then I still sing the words and tune to that Sunday cchool song, "Into My Heart." They are good lyrics for adults as well as children. We do need to invite Jesus into our hearts, to invite his light to illumine our darkness.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, poet, author of 70 books, social activist, and student of comparative religion. He was instrumental in establishing dialogue between Christians and Buddhists. His influential autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain is a modern Confessions of St. Augustine.
He once met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists. The Dalai Lama confronted Merton with this question: "What do your vows oblige you to do? Do they simply constitute an agreement to stick around for life in the monastery? Or do they imply a commitment to a life of progress up certain mystical stages?"
After much hesitation, Merton said, "I believe my vows can be interpreted as a commitment to a total inner transformation of one sort or another, a commitment to become a completely new man. No matter where one attempts to do this, that remains the essential thing." (Fenhagen, 4-5)
Our passage from John 6 offers good news for us, for wherever we are attempting to invite Jesus into our hearts. Wherever we are, we already live and move and have our being in Christ. We abide in him as he abides in God.
That puts things in a whole different light!
James C. Fenhagen, More Than Wanderers: Spiritual Disciplines for Christian Ministry (Seabury Press, 1978).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.