Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. – John 6:68 (NIV)
While movies might be dismissed as merely the light fare of pop culture, they can have a profound effect on us. For me one such movie was An Officer and a Gentleman. Released in 1982, it tells the story of U.S. Navy aviation officer candidate, Zach Mayo, played by Richard Gere, who comes into conflict with Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, played by Louis Gossett, Jr., who serves as Mayo’s Drill Instructor. I saw this movie as a college sophomore contemplating how I was going to land a job and pay back my school loans. ROTC would seem to offer a solution to both problems – employment and the repayment of the school loans. I was more than toying around with the idea of enrolling in ROTC until I saw the movie.
Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, rides Navy aviation officer candidate, Zach Mayo, mercilessly believing he is not officer material. For his portrayal of the tough Drill Instructor, Gossett won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He did more than just convince, the Oscar voters, he convinced me! His portrayal of Foley was the catalyst for me to consider other career options!
While Foley makes life miserable for Mayo throughout the movie, but there is a pivotal point where it reaches a climax. Foley attempt get Mayo to DOR “drop on request”, i.e. request to terminate training. Foley does this by subjecting Mayo to grueling calisthenics and verbal taunts. Foley yells at Mayo, “I want your DOR!” Exhausted and exasperated, Foley yells back with conviction, “I got nowhere else to go!” Mayo ultimately does complete his training, becoming a naval ensign.
Nearly two millennia early, another instructor was putting his recruits through their paces. Jesus had just performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, and his popularity was growing. The crowd gathered sought to forcibly make him king. Jesus performed an evasive maneuver and withdrew to a mountain by himself. He put further distance between himself and the crowd by traveling to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Undeterred, the crowd found Jesus on the other side. Wary of their affection for the wrong reasons, Jesus issues this warning to the crowd in John 6:26-27, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”
Over the succeeding verses, Jesus makes the case with the crowd that ultimately it is the eternal life he has to offer, not the food he is able to conjure up, nor any miraculous signs he is able to manifest that should cause their devotion to him. However Jesus presents his case in a way that is not particularly winsome or understandable, but rather to many, offensive. Jesus proclaimed “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (v54). The Jews did not practice cannibalism and the Mosaic law expressly forbade eating blood (see Leviticus 17:10). Like Gunnery Sergeant Foley, it seems as it Jesus was intent in getting his recruits to DOR, drop on request. What was the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ message? On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? (v60) and from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (v66). Jesus then turned to his closest followers, the twelve and asked them whether they intended to desert him as well. It was to this question that Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (v68).
It would not be until after Christ’s death and resurrection that his disciples would come to understand what he meant by the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover lamb and the culmination of the sacrificial system. The twelve could not have known that on the day Jesus’ words offended so many and turned them away. In the meantime they had to trust in the person of Jesus, even if they could not comprehend his practices.
At times it seems like being a Christ follower is one extended boot camp. Scripture even compares it to military service. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3). The point of military boot camp is to transform the recruit into a soldier. God’s discipline serves an even greater good, God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 10b-11).