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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
I want to offer an alternative interpretation of Jesus’s words in John. Jesus said to those wanting to use him to gain political power, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.” (See Enough for Everyone.)
Most Biblical Greek scholars recognize that the word translated “eternal”, aionios, described a future time when God would establish justice on Earth. That vision contrasted this present age of violence, injustice, and oppression with a future age of justice, restoration, and peace. The eternal age contrasted with a present temporary age. The focus of anioios was primarily about the quality of the age to come and only secondarily about the age’s duration. In the eternal age or the eternal life, injustice, oppression and violence would be put right.
In this context, an alternative, life-giving interpretation of Jesus’ words in John’s gospel is a call to focus on the long game of establishing justice in the earth over the temporary gains of power, privilege or property.
Let me offer some examples.
Those in control of and benefiting from the US fossil fuel industries have a decision to make: continue making enormous profits today and make our planet uninhabitable through the climate change that results from burning industry products, or abandon those profits (“food that spoils”) to ensure our planet remains a safe, habitable home for everyone (“food that endures to eternal life”).
A friend connected to various Evangelical and fundamentalist ministries shares another example. My friend has witnessed those who have successful ministries pressured to embrace or align with the current surge in Christian nationalism and that movement’s politics. If they do, they’re choosing to support or at least go along with things they never would have imagined themselves supporting just to keep money flowing into their ministries. Their choice is between standing against what they see happening, trying to rightly inform their supporters, losing financial support, and downsizing their “successful” ministries, and staying silent, going along with troubling things, and trying to maintain supporters who understand what they are doing and supporters who are sincere but misled or misinformed. This is a textbook example of working for “food that spoils” rather than “food that endures to eternal life.”
US politicians now have a very similar choice: go along with Trumpism, anti-vaccination, and/or other troubling party platforms to get re-elected next year (working for “food that spoils”) or stand against what they feel is harmful and face political ruin over the right thing to do long-term (working for “food that endures to eternal life”).
This is another variant of the choice laid before Luke’s gospel’s audience:
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25)
I know something of having to make this kind of choice.
I’ll share a bit of my own story and what this all might mean for us today, in Part 3.